Why a Will should be the first step in your wealth planning

By Amit Patni

Life is dotted with many uncertainties. As human beings, we crave for safety and security. However, with the outbreak of the pandemic, which is threatening to take heavy toll on human life, these uncertainties have become more pronounced and complex.

The current set of events has highlighted the importance of having a formal legal Will in place to ensure smooth succession in a family and business in case of an unexpected death of the principal/head of the family. While a Will is one of the most important documents to have in place, very few follow the practice of having a prepared one.

Having a Will drafted usually means preparing for one’s death and, although it is a natural phenomenon, no one is prepared to foresee death at any stage of life! However, the impact of Covid-19 has been so hard that the first thought that comes to mind is what will happen to my family and business in case of an untimely death.

As such, it is better to stay prepared with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to tackle situations like these, as thinking of making the Will tomorrow may be too late, at times.

Despite knowing that having a legal Will well in advance is the best way to secure wealth for future generations, not everyone bothers to do it. Not having a Will has the potential to create legal disputes between/among one’s family members causing immense inconvenience to family members with the possibility of adverse effects on a business. Furthermore, your heirs may be forced to spend additional time, money and emotional energy to settle matter well after you are gone.

A Will is a legal document that communicates your wishes through specific instructions, regarding distribution of wealth and assets within the family after your death. A Will is not necessarily meant for the rich. Anyone with property and assets should have a Will, which should be updated with life changes, be it marriage, having children, a death in the family, divorce and/or property acquisition.

The Will specifies what sources are to be used to pay estate taxes and debts that are due, and names an executor who will be responsible for the settlement of your estate. It ends with your signature, the signatures of the required number of witnesses, and typically, a notary public’s oath about the validity of those signatures.

The Will should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it articulates your wishes. There are no restrictions on the number of Wills that can be made by the testator. However, only the last Will made before the death is enforceable.

Though a Will is a legal document, there is no prescribed format for the same, as the requirement and content could differ from person to person. For instance, you do not need to write a Will on a stamp paper, and it can be either typed or handwritten. However, a handwritten Will is preferred, as it is more difficult to refute in a court of law. It has to be executed by the testator, by signing or affixing his thumb impression on it. It should be attested by two or more witnesses, in whose presence the testator signs the Will. A Will drafted by force or under influences like intoxication or an unstable state of mind will be void, as it takes away the free agency of the testator. Though registration of the Will is not compulsory, it can be registered with the registrar after paying required stamp duty for the same. The Will can be withdrawn anytime the testator wishes to.

Although an unregistered Will is perfectly valid, a registered Will carries more weightage for approval and is more effective if contested before a court of law. Having toiled all through your life to secure your family financially for the present and future, you should not allow ignorance or negligence on your part to prove costly for your family members at any time.

Thus, one should shun all the inhibition and embrace objectivity to secure the resources and assets for the sake of her family. A Will being so important, it should be your first step in your financial planning. If your family structure is diverse, and you want to leave your wealth to your family members as per your wishes, you should prepare your Will today – not tomorrow, nor later. So, gift your family members some of your time today, to save them from an unnecessary ordeal tomorrow.

(Amit Patni, Director of Campden Family Connect. Views are his own)

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