Who’s in a will? Who’s NOT in the will?
I vividly recall the movie Greedy where rich and elderly Uncle Joe (played by Kirk Douglas) was often plagued by his greedy and avaricious family who curried his favor just so he would leave them part of his vast fortune in his will. Danny (Michael J Fox) unexpectedly gets drawn into and caught up the drama. Uncle Joe later reveals that he is broke and everyone leaves in disgust with nothing to fight over. The movie ends with Uncle Joe revealing that he IS actually still rich and he was deciding who to exclude from his will (and Danny manages to overcome his greed to show his real affection for Uncle Joe, even when he thought him penniless).
Vaguely worded wills can open the doors to fighting over your estate
Writing a living will or last will and testament is as much about who you want to exclude as it is who you do want to include to receive your estate when you should pass. Many of us may come from large families and you might not want specific people to cause your children and other beneficiaries undue grief and frustration if they should try to contest that they deserve a part of your estate, particularly if your will is not worded precisely enough to avoid any ambiguity.
Give $1 to someone you don’t want to get anything in your will
That is why lawyers in Singapore sometimes suggest that you should explicitly give a small token amount to someone you intentionally want to exclude from your will. It might seem spiteful to do this (deliciously so if this is someone you dislike intensely), but what it really is achieving is removing any potential argument this excluded person (whom you might personally dislike) might use to try to gain a piece of your assets when you have absolutely no intention of leaving it for him, her or them. Your will will clearly have a place for this person, just not a very significant part of it.
Other lawyers suggest an alternative to acknowledge that this person is a family member but that you choose not to leave anything in or outside the will to them. Their rationale — it might potentially increase probate costs since the hated heir will have to be notified and issued and delivered a check from the estate, and be seen as unnecessarily cruel after he/she/they have his/her/their hopes dashed.
You won’t be around to help resolve any of these complications on behalf of your children and other beneficiaries so it is important to be very clear and precise in how you want to divide your earthly possessions in your will, especially if you have a significant and complicated estate. You should also update your will if you do get married (or remarried), or every few years.
Ready to write or update your will? Consult a lawyer!
It is common knowledge that you do not necessarily need a lawyer to draw up or update your will, but it is highly recommended to consult one who has experience to help you fully express your intentions in your will. This is particularly the case if you estate is complex with a variety of different assets — in these cases, it is prudent to engage a lawyer to guide you. Writing a will is relatively inexpensive and worth investing in.
Get started by getting legal advice on how you can use living wills, trusts and lasting powers of attorney (LPA) to plan for your estate. Consult an experienced, practicing lawyer on the phone for a transparent, flat fee of S$49 today.