By NEELA RAMSUNDAR
Chances are anyone reading this article would have attended at least one funeral in their lifetime. We are briefly reminded of our own mortality and how blessed we are to have our loved ones around us. Then we go home, and all is forgotten while we scramble to keep ahead of bills, appointments, work obligations and life in general.
Thinking about what will happen after we die is uncomfortable. Some harbour a secret belief that by making their Last Will and Testament they will be prematurely putting one foot in their grave. (You may be hard pressed to find any empirical data on this, though.)
In essence, a Will is a legal document with your instructions on how your property is to be distributed on your death.
Superstitions aside, there are very practical reasons for getting your Last Will and Testament done no matter what your adult age. If you cannot bring yourself to make your Will, at the very least, take a few minutes to sit behind your computer and type up a list of all the assets you own and put it in the drawer with the rest of your important documents. If you owe any debts, include that too. Why?
No sugar-coating. No-one knows when their time is going to be up. Life offers no guarantee we will all live to a ripe old age. With you gone, your last rites must be carried out. Grief abounds, and your family is left to pick up the pieces. This includes eventually figuring out what you owned to distribute it to whomever is entitled, and paying off any debts you had.
Would it not be easier on them if they had that written list with your assets and debts all in one place? Or your Will, which, if properly done, should contain all the information they need.
You see, after your demise, someone must apply to the Probate Division of the High Court of Justice to obtain a specific document that gives them the power to deal with your estate. If you pass away without having made a Will (intestate), that document is called a Grant of Letters of Administration. If you died leaving a valid Will (testate), the document applied for will be a Grant of Probate.
Only an Attorney-at-Law can make this application on their behalf. There are many rules and laws to be followed, but no matter which grant is applied for, an “Inventory” has to be drawn up and filed. This inventory describes all your assets, and the value of each item at the time of your demise.
More often than not, relatives do not have an easy time investigating what exactly their loved one left behind. With many banks going paperless, there are no monthly bank statements to find tucked inside a manila envelope under the mattress, as it were many years ago.
If you left nothing in writing to guide them, your relatives may have to ask their Attorney to go fishing: to send letters to banks and other financial institutions inquiring whether you have any accounts with them. Some banks currently charge up to $150 to retrieve this information. The waiting time for responses can last months. It may all add up to unnecessary stress on your loved ones, and a longer waiting time to get your estate affairs in order.
My point here is a little advance paperwork can help your family immensely when that unfortunate time comes. If you are married, this exercise may seem pointless, as your spouse may know everything there is to know about you (fingers crossed). But if you fall into any other relationship category, it may be less likely the person who applies to act on behalf of your estate will know “all your business”.
Unlike a Deed, for instance, a Will can be destroyed and a new one made as many times as you wish. If you do decide to make a Will, there is no requirement in law that a lawyer needs to draw it up. You can prepare it yourself, once you know the necessities to make a valid Will. Still, do consider whether you should seek professional advice or assistance to get it done right.
Young or old, if you cannot bring yourself to make a Will, surely you can bring yourself to draw up a personal “Inventory.” Just in case!
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.
© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney-at-Law & Certified Mediator