Benefitting Your Loved Ones in Life After Your Death: The 5 Questions to Ask Yourself
Over the last two years, Prident has shared information on the various tools available for our estate planning matters. You can refer to them here. Now that we know the tools at our disposal, let’s explore the thought processes we could go through to benefit those that we love.
Although estate planning covers situations in life (i.e. mental incapacity) and in death, I will only address the considerations in the event of death.
1.What and Where Are My Assets?
To benefit your loved ones, it is important for them to know where your assets are when you are no longer around. Often, I hear of cases where family members call bank after bank, insurance company after insurance company, because they do not know who their deceased loved ones may have business dealings with.
An easy way to inform our beneficiaries (the people you want to benefit in your death) is to keep a Personal Asset Inventory Booklet. The document is not legally binding, but it makes it easier to locate your assets in your absence. Usually, people attach this document to their Will, and continue to update this list regularly (e.g. once a year).
As part of knowing where your assets are, the location of your Will needs to be known to your Executor(s). This is because your Executor(s) need the original copy of your Will to execute it. Keeping the original copy safe and traceable is key – contentions may arise if your original Will is defaced, destroyed, or misplaced.
2. Who Should Be Responsible for What?
In estate planning, you have two key duties. One is to ensure that you capture and document your intentions as clearly as possible. Two is to find trustworthy people/entities to carry out your intentions as responsibly as you would for your loved ones. Here, we focus on three such roles – Executors/Trustees, Legal Guardians, and Custodians of your Will.
When appointing Executors/Trustees, keep in mind that this is a major responsibility that can drag on for years or even decades. Good qualities to look out for in Executors/Trustees are whether they are prompt, trustworthy, legally and financially savvy, care for your beneficiaries, and have time to handle your estate matters.
For Executors/Trustees, promptness is crucial. This is especially so for individuals who have strained relationships with their blood family. In the time the Executors/Trustees take to execute your Will, your blood family members may have already made claims on certain assets from entities that recognise blood family members as proper claimants. All they need are the death certificate, a copy of your ID, and a document to prove your relationship with them (e.g. birth certificates).
If you are the natural guardian of your minor children, you have the right to appoint the legal guardian(s) of your children to act on your demise. (Although children born out of wedlock are considered illegitimate, a possible way to overcome this is to file for adoption of your children.)
Appointing the legal guardian(s) of your minor children is especially important if you wish to appoint your same-sex partner. Should you not do so and leave it to the court to decide, there is a good chance the court will appoint your blood relatives as the legal guardian instead.
As the legal guardian(s) of your children, they must love your children. Other things to consider are whether they have time for your children, are likely to be fit and healthy till your children turn 21, and can plan and make good life decisions for your children.
Custody of Will
As highlighted previously, keeping your Will safe and traceable is extremely important. Having your Will accidentally accessed by others may expose it to unwanted scrutiny and speculations that may strain relationships. To avoid this, it is best to secure your Will somewhere that is locked, fireproof and waterproof.
Another thing worth considering is to register your Will in the Will Registry. The information you lodge therein can include the location of your Will. Upon your demise, your beneficiaries and/or Executor(s) can search the Will Registry to find out where you have kept your Will. That way, you also maintain privacy and do not have to prematurely declare the existence of your Will to your beneficiaries.
3. Who Do I Wish to Benefit?
When your assets are distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act, it only benefits your blood family or those who are married to you in the eyes of Singapore law.
Tools like Wills and Nominations help to benefit your loved ones who do not fall under the scope of the Intestate Succession Act. These may include same-sex partners, minor children (e.g. nieces and nephews, or your child whose sole legally recognised parent is your partner), charitable organisations, and even pets.
4. How Should I Benefit Them?
There are many ways to distribute your assets to your loved ones. You can distribute everything to them in one go, or you can delay it with periodic distributions or based on specific occasions and conditions. More importantly, the methods to be used to distribute your assets to your loved ones depend on their individual needs.
Here are a few examples.
Benefitting Your Same-Sex Partner With Whom You Have No Child
While your partner is young and has good career prospects, you may not worry that they may not be able to care for themselves in the short term. Instead, you may worry about when they hit their 60s, lose job security and may not have someone to care for them.
To better provide for them, you may plan for your partner to receive a part of their inheritance at the start. The remainder can be received by them on a regular basis from, say, age 60 until the time they pass away – which serves as a monthly income in retirement.
You can even choose to make provisions for the payment of caretakers and nursing homes for your partner should they require them.
Benefitting Your Children When You Are Not the Natural Guardian
When it comes to having children with our same-sex partners in Singapore, the relationship we have with our children may not be legally recognised. Despite that, we can still make provisions for them in our estate planning.
The following can also be considered when making provisions for your nieces, nephews, godchildren etc.
The legal age for the beneficiaries to inherit is 18 years old for insurance policies and CPF accounts with nominations, and 21 years old for all else. Now, imagine that your intent is to leave 20% of what you have to each child. Are you confident that a young adult can responsibly manage the money? Will they be susceptible to the temptation to splurge? Each child is different, and only you will know the answer as to how they may behave.
Often, our wish for the next generation is for them to have a happy and stable future. As much as we want to handhold them, we also want them to stand on their own feet.
For children that you think are not prudent with money, you may encourage them by spreading out their inheritance and setting some milestones for them. These milestones could be when they reach the age of 25, when they get an academic qualification etc. They may then receive the rest of their inheritance in full when they reach a mature age (e.g. age 30, perhaps?).
If you want to provide for your children for as long as possible without spoiling them, you may wish to incentivise them by giving them an amount that is equivalent to X% of their monthly income. This encourages them to stay employed.
Besides these milestones, it is also important to provide for times when they might be ill and unable to work.
Benefitting Your Pets
You can state in your wishes who you would like to care for your pets and how you want them to be cared for. Wishes are not legally binding and are often kept very short. If you want to be more personal and detailed, you can write a letter to your appointed pet caretaker. This letter, which is also not legally binding, can be safekept and accessed together with your Will.
Should you prefer to, you can continue to financially provide for your pets. However, your pets cannot directly benefit from your estate. The beneficiary is usually the appointed caretaker instead. Although you can provide a lump sum amount to your pets’ caretaker right from the start, this does not guarantee that they will use the money for your beloved pets.
You may therefore wish to impose conditions on the use of the funds that are meant for your pets. You may state that the caretaker of your pet may receive a sum of $X a month on the condition that this amount is used to look after your pets, failing which the payments shall be withheld from the caretaker.
5. Are There Contingencies That I Must Prepare For?
Many of us would want to include as many considerations as possible in our estate planning. It is natural to feel like there are always more situations to provide for. That is why one should never be rushed through the estate planning process. Make sure to take the time to think about the best ways to protect and provide for your loved ones when you are no longer around.
For instance, what happens in the case of a common disaster? What if you and your beneficiaries were to pass away together? What if the time of death cannot be determined – then who benefits from whose estate?
In cases where the time of death cannot be determined, it is assumed that the older person has passed away first. Picture this scenario where Person A wants Person B to benefit from their estate. Person A is older than Person B. While on a holiday, Person A and Person B die in a car crash together where the time of death cannot be determined. Person B is assumed to have died later and proceeds to inherit from Person A’s estate. As Person B has also passed away, their estate (together with all that they have received from Person A) will be distributed to their beneficiaries of choice instead. This would not be ideal if Person A had their own preferred beneficiaries that they would rather have benefitted had they known Person B was unable to get the inheritance.
To avoid the above situation, a survivor/common disaster clause can be used.
While it is important to go through as many considerations as possible, a line will still need to be drawn at some point. Therefore, think it through and decide what to prioritise. It is also helpful to speak to professionals who are familiar with the planning of these contingencies.
Taking the first step to make plans for life after your death can be daunting. I hope the above ideas have given you more confidence to make better estate planning decisions that honour your life and all who matter to you.
To end, I have one last tip to share. Nothing in life stays the same, and that applies to estate planning. Relationships and situations evolve, so the contents of your estate planning documents need updating too. As such, it is good practice to review your Will every 5-10 years or when major life events occur.
As always, the above are my own professional opinions and do not represent the organisations that I work with. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me via Prident at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out more about Jie Bin here. Write to Prident at email@example.com if you would like to get in touch with her.
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