The only thing certain in life, is death. And I know that, upon my death, the people who love me the most will remember me. Writing a will taught me how to die with grace, compassion and love. My will is a legal expression of how I want my assets to be dealt with. More importantly, it is also my way of ensuring that those who love me the most are appreciated; that the organisations and values that I subscribe to, remain relevant with each passing generation; and that my death is not a burden to anyone.
“The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
– Quote from a book by Mitch Albion called “Tuesdays with Morrie”
Learning to die simply means (a) how do I want those who love me the most, to appreciate me after I am gone; (b) what impact do I want to make upon my passing; and (c) what is the legacy or footprint that I want to leave behind.
Why write a will?
- A will ensures that your assets, such as properties you own, stocks, shares and cash monies are handed over to your loved ones according to your wishes. In the absence of a will, your estate will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act.
- If you have children below 21 years of age, you may wish to appoint a guardian of your choice, whom you believe is capable and willing to bring up your children. A guardian appointed in a will is known as a ‘testamentary guardian’ and they need not be biologically related to your children – see Guardianship of Infants Act.
- Some want to be buried, while others prefer cremation. Then again, some may wish to donate their body to science. You exercise your rights (religious or personal) over your body, upon your death, by stating your wishes clearly in your will.
- Only by writing a will, do you get to choose the executor for your estate i.e., someone you trust to take charge of your estate and distribute it according to your wishes. Without a will, your personal representative will be appointed by law.
- Saying farewell can be expensive. By explicitly setting aside monies, in your will, you ensure that no one is burdened by your passing. You choose who, when and how your funeral should be conducted.
- You can make donations to organisations of your choice. Your donations reflect your legacy and values and it sends a message to the next generation.
Basic requirements for a valid will in Singapore
In Singapore, the Wills Act governs what is regarded as a valid will, under the law. Under this Act, every person may “devise, bequeath or dispose” of his real or personal estate by writing a will. The key requirements can be summarised as follows:
- The will must be in writing;
- The testator must be at least 21 years of age;
- The testator must sign the will at the foot of the will (and ideally on every page);
- The testator’s signature must be witnessed by at least 2 witnesses, who must also sign the will in the presence of the testator; and
- The two witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the will (or spouses of beneficiaries).
The essential contents of a will
Your will should include the following information:
- Your personal particulars;
- A revocation clause to revoke any wills made previously;
- The name and particulars of your executor. A beneficiary may also be appointed as an executor. There can also be more than one executor;
- The name and particulars of all your beneficiaries;
- The specific asset that each beneficiary is to receive or distributed to several beneficiaries based on a percentage of your asset value. You can also specify how the asset is to be valued, and whether it is open to one of the beneficiaries to buy over the asset from the others;
- A residual clause on how to distribute the remaining assets, based on your wishes.
CPF is not covered under your will and you must make a CPF nomination if you want your monies to be distributed according to your wishes, upon your death. In the absence of any nomination, your CPF monies will be transferred to the Public Trustees Office and distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act.
There is no point hiding your will and not telling anyone about its existence, after you have written it. Your executor/beneficiaries must know where the document is kept, as otherwise they may not be able to act according to your wishes. The contents of your will can remain confidential. Disputes arise when expectations are mismanaged or when there is distrust. Learning to die gracefully means ensuring that those who love you the most respect your wishes. Your will can include clauses to prevent or discourage discord.
Your will is a living document and you must constantly review and adjust it, as your personal circumstances evolve, with age. Always be specific when identifying an asset and ensure that you maintain proper documents. Much time and legal costs can be wasted trying to ascertain whether the asset is still of value, after your death. Your will must be clear, concise and complete.
Always review your will as and when a beneficiary or an executor expires before you. Your will can be drafted to cater for alternative scenarios. This will avoid unnecessary re-writes to it. When in doubt, always consult a lawyer.
Both N K Anitha and Asoka started their legal careers with the Attorney General’s Chambers and collectively have 20+ years of legal experience. They are both experienced trial lawyers and their law firm specialises in criminal, family and estate / probate matters. For further inquiries, please send an email to [email protected].