Why you should make a will - and how to do it

You don't need a lawyer, but it's good to be well-informed

Many Singaporeans put off making a will, yet it can be as simple as picking up a pen and writing it yourself.

The most common misconception is that a lawyer is needed to write a will. But anybody can write one, as long as they are well-informed.

A will is a legal document that gives specific instructions for the distribution of your assets.

Experts recommend that wills be registered with the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office (IPTO).

If you do not have a will, the state can direct the distribution of your assets according to the Intestate Succession Act.

This lists nine rules dictating how the assets of a deceased non-Muslim citizen can be distributed. They vary according to marital status and if the person is survived by his parents, spouse, children or siblings, said will writer Patrick Chang, who will be speaking on the topic at the 50plus Expo 2013 this Friday.

For example, the assets of the deceased will be split in half between his surviving spouse and children.

But no two families are the same, and one may have differing opinions on the distribution, warns Mr Chang, so it is imperative to make a will to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

The Sunday Times looks at why you should consider making a will.

  • You don't have to be rich to make a will

There is no sum that is too small for a will. Most of us can easily have a net worth of more than $100,000 if our home, insurance policies and bank accounts are taken into consideration.

It is even more important for the layman to apportion his assets carefully, as family members of the less well-to-do would probably need the money more than the rich.

Mr Chang says: "To the very rich, $2 million can be nothing. But to the ordinary person, sometimes $50,000 is a lot of money."

  • You can help prevent sticky situations

Blood may not necessarily be thicker than water when it comes to distributing an inheritance.

Mr Chang points to cases of families going to court over inheritances, especially in the case of the Intestate Succession Act.

When minors inherit assets, the surviving parent will effectively become a trustee of their money. In such cases, the funds have to be spent for the benefit of the child, and records kept.

"When the child comes of age, he can sue his parent if he feels that it was not utilised properly," says Mr Chang.

Writing a will with specific instructions can help avoid such a scenario. "It's not so much about the amount of assets we own, but the potential complication that can arise from the death, and not having a valid will," he adds.

  • You don't have to pay an arm and a leg for it

A will can be written for as little as $200 to $300, using a will writer or lawyer. Costs may differ, depending on the complexity of the document.

Mr Chang says this is a small sum compared with the thousands that families spend on lawsuits over a disputed inheritance.

  • You are not too young to write a will

Anyone over 21 can make a will.

Mr Chang cites his youngest client - a 25-year-old who made a will to ensure her parents would be provided for.

"Under the intestacy rules, 50 per cent of her assets would go to her spouse and 50 per cent to her child, leaving nothing for her surviving parents. She wrote the will to make that special provision for her parents," he notes.

Even a single person with deceased parents can make a will if he would like to leave specific instructions on distributing assets among his siblings.

  • It's not all about money

You can also appoint your executor in a will, which is particularly important in the case of people with elderly parents, as the legal process of obtaining the apportioned assets can be complicated.

Things can be simplified if an executor is appointed to assist with the procedures.

Your will can also extend to making your funeral arrangements.

"Some of us may want to be buried, instead of cremated. This can be stated in your will," says Mr Chang. But be sure to inform the executor of your request before appointing him in a will, he adds.

  • More than one will

A will can always change as you amass more wealth. But if you do amend your will, be sure to register it with the IPTO each time to ensure the updated version is enforced.

  • There are limitations

Not all our assets can be distributed.

Mr Chang notes that money in our Central Provident Fund cannot be included in a will.

Property held in joint tenancy is also excluded, as the surviving owner has the legal right to take full possession. Other excluded assets are cash in joint savings accounts, and insurance monies with a nominated beneficiary.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 17, 2013

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