Indian society has moved away from ancestral wealth to self-earned wealth in the last few years. Many families may still have substantial ancestral properties such as land, family homes or heirloom jewellery. However, for a growing number of people, the value of self-purchased or self-accumulated assets such as home, land, jewellery, vehicles and financial assets like shares, mutual fund units, bank deposits or life insurance policies is likely to exceed the value of assets inherited from their parents or grandparents.
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While there are well-established rules and regulations for the distribution of ancestral property under the inheritance and succession acts for various communities, there are a few restrictions on the distribution and disposal of self-earned wealth. This means that you have full freedom to decide the way your assets will be distributed among your loved ones.
Some also fear leaving behind a bad name if the Will comes out to be more or less favourable to one family member over another.
And then, there are those who want to leave the property matters to the good faith of their descendants, trusting them to be fair to each other. The gains of a valid Will outweigh all its real and imagined costs.
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Here are five big reasons why all of us should write a Will:
1. Fair distribution of your property. A Will ensures that your property is distributed in the way you intend it to and that your descendants and legal heirs receive their fair share. The death of a loved one is tough and emotionally distressing for family members. No one would want to deal with lawyers and courts immediately after any death. A Will provides peace of mind and financial security to your family after your death.
A concise and well written Will without any ambiguity that seems fair to every family member will help in maintaining the cohesion in the family and will be one of your best legacies. Writing a Will allows you to name an executor, who will carry out all the proceedings of the Will and ensure that your property is distributed as per your wishes.
2. Avoids costly legal battles after your death. There is a strong possibility of a lengthy and expensive legal battle among your descendants and family members to get a fair share of their family property in the absence of a valid Will.
Worse, legal battles also create bad blood among the family that may prove even more costly in the longer term. Given this, it’s cheaper and faster to write a Will rather than leave the matter to the good faith of your family members.
3. Management of Property. Many individuals, especially those with large and diverse assets such as homes, farms or a big collection of artworks or books may want their property to be managed or distributed in a specific manner after their death. For example, you may want your collection of artworks to be donated to a specific museum or may wish to give away a part of your property to a charity for a specific cause. A Will allows you to specify how your property will be managed after your death. The executor will be responsible for managing the affairs of your property according to your Will.
4. Appointing a guardian for your minor children: The welfare of children is most often the biggest concern of parents. This can especially be a big burden if your children are minors at the time of writing the Will or not mature enough to handle their finances. In that case, you can appoint a legal guardian for your children in the Will. This will ensure that your children get their fair share and their financial needs are taken care of in the unlikely event when you are not around.
5. Protecting your business: Writing a Will is especially important if you own a business.
A Will allows your company or business to pass on into the right hands –your chosen heir or co-owners – so that it continues to shine even after your death. A failure to write a Will on the other hand will result in ownership dispute creating uncertainty and division that could potentially kill the business itself.
A valid Will written in clear language with a trusted executor is the best legacy that you can leave behind for your loved one. So shed your inhibitions and get going on this.
(Karan Deo Sharma is a Mumbai-based finance and equity markets specialist).