Monday, August 2, 2021
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Perils of not making a Will

If you are reading this story, there’s a good chance you don’t have a Will or an updated one.  Years ago, Bangalore-domiciled Jayanth Rao (name changed), 59, a railway official, died of cardiac arrest.  Besides being a good father with a loving wife, a son and a daughter, Mr. Rao left a wonderful personal legacy.

But like many other Indians, he never thought about creating a Will or documenting his assets. Upheaval followed Mr. Rao’s death, though not immediately, leaving fractured family relationship that is not likely to be mended in the coming days. To make matters worse, the assets seem misappropriated, thanks to the dubious methods adopted by the legal-heir to become the sole beneficiary. Today, Mrs. Rao is languishing like a beggar, if not one. The only silver-lining is the daughter was married off shortly after Rao’s demise.

Thus, you don’t have to look too far to find depressing examples showing how loving families can be torn apart in the absence of a Will.  Rao’s story is only a tip of the iceberg. Many people know that they need life insurance to protect their families. But besides life cover, you also need to have “Will”, a binding legal document which ensures that your property is disbursed according to your wishes after your death.

Death is hard enough to deal with, but toss in a family along with no written instructions from the deceased, and you clearly enter the messy zone.  Disputes that erupt when people die without updating their beneficiaries of information or even naming a beneficiary, are not uncommon. Deserving survivors become wounded when they learn their loved one didn’t make a Will.  As a result, the things you value the most could be given to someone you would have never chosen.

Saves time and trouble

Even if you don’t have kids or spouse, you’ll want to create a Will anyway, to specify clearly what to do with your belongings after you’re gone. In the end, an up-to-date will can save your loved ones a lot of time and trouble.

Most people believe that writing a Will is like preparing yourself for death and look the other way. It’s easier to pretend it won’t happen when we all know that the only thing certain in life are death and taxes, and the former needs no one’s permission. When there is no Will, legal heirs often get into a protracted legal battle, resulting in inevitable financial costs and mental agony.

Beware of fabricated Wills, spendthrift heirs

When you don’t have a Will in place, it’s possible for a vested interest to create a fake one, especially if your estate is large. Remember, when the famous US businessman and filmmaker Howard Hughes died with no immediate family, nor any Will, several purported Wills surfaced, and the estate spent millions defending the $4 billion legacy against the bogus documents. In fact, back home, we come across spurious papers surfacing even without any Will at all!

In many cases, leaving your children a large sum of money is a gift.  But, if your heirs aren’t equipped to handle so much at once, it can do more damage than good. Receiving a windfall can enable their (bad) habits, worse if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol or affluenza lifestyle, and anger other beneficiaries who might have to employ lawyers to fight the proposed distribution.

Dispel half-baked assumptions

“It’s too much paper work”. Yes, many documents need to be assembled – a Will, bank statement, jewellery inventory, insurance policies, pension data, guardianship instructions, or perhaps Power of Attorney (POA). On the contrary, in your worldly absence, it is a tougher battle to immerse in the clutter to piece together your financial specific. Making a Will is not expensive, but chaos is.

“My wife or husband will get everything….” Wrong!  In the absence of a Will, all the legal heirs have equal claim.  Don’t assume people will do the right thing when they are grieving.

“Leave it for now…”. Most people entertain this attitude, or ask if there are cheaper alternatives. This response is stupefying considering the disastrous impact of not having a Will, and you are never too young (18 years minimum age) to write a Will, and don’t leave it for a retirement plan.

Writing a Will is part of being adult and responsible, and constitutes a vital segment of sound financial planning. Making a Will is a must, not an option. If you want to ensure that your loved ones are left with a secure financial future, write a Will, right away.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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