5 mins July 20, 2020
A Will is a legal document which has details of how the person writing it wishes to distribute his/her wealth and assets among the heirs. It is an essential part of financial planning as it is an efficient method of distributing your wealth and assets among your family members and ensuring that each one’s needs are taken care of. The Will becomes valid only after the death of the person writing it, i.e. the testator.
A Will is also a way to leave instructions to your heirs about issues close to your heart. For example, you may want to bequeath some funds to a charity. But unless you mention it in your Will, your family may not have any idea about it.
The absence of a Will is often the major cause of many property and land disputes. Many of these end up as court cases that drag on for years. One reason for this could be the fact that many people are reluctant to write a Will.
How to write a Will
Making a Will is not as difficult as one would think it to be. Any individual over the age of 21 can write a will. It is advisable to consult a lawyer so that you don’t leave any loopholes. The Will need not be typed; even a handwritten one has legal validity. Just ensure that the handwriting is clear and legible to avoid ambiguities and bears your signature.
Today, there are online platforms where you can structure your Will document. But since it is valid only if it has your signature, it is advisable to keep a physical copy and sign it. The validity of digital signatures concerning Will in India is still unclear. For detailed advice such as listing all your assets with the right valuation, deciding in what proportion to distribute them among your heirs, etc, consulting a professional is always better.
Keep the following points in mind when you write your Will:
1. Start with a self-declaration, stating your name, address, age at the time of writing and that you are in your complete senses and writing without any coercion or pressure from any family members, lawyers, friends or acquaintances.
2. Give as many details of your assets as possible. The value of your liquid assets (stocks, bonds, mutual fund units, bank accounts, and cash) may change over time. Hence, instead of mentioning them, it might be wiser to broadly categorise them and note their value at the time of writing.
3. For physical assets like jewellery or artefacts, and immovable assets such as property, be sure to mention as many details as possible. Store the documentation related to your assets in a secure location (like a bank locker) and specify that location in your Will.
4. Once you have made a list of all your assets, clearly state which of these you want to bequeath to whom and in what quantity or percentage. Ensure that you mention the full names (as they appear in their passports or Aadhaar cards) of your heirs and your relationship with them. If any of the heirs is a minor, you will have to appoint someone as a custodian till the heir attains majority.
5. If the document you are preparing is complex (several bequeaths to different people and/or organisations), it is a good idea to appoint an executor, who will have the legal responsibility and authority to carry out your wishes. The executor could be a close friend or someone you trust such as your lawyer or accountant, etc. Today, there are professional agencies that will help you draft a Will and execute it for a fee. You could consider one of them.
6. You will need two independent witnesses (people not named as beneficiaries or executors) to sign every page of the Will. The date and place/venue should also be written at the bottom.
7. While a Will written on a plain paper remains valid provided you have followed the above steps, to make it stronger, you could consider registering it the local sub-registrar’s office. A Will does not attract stamp duties, but you will have to pay registration fees.
8. The signed (and hopefully registered) Will should be put into an envelope. Seal the envelope write the date and sign it across the flap, so that if someone tries to open it such attempt at tampering becomes evident. While it is not legally necessary, you can even ask the witnesses to sign the envelope. If the Will is not registered your signature is the only piece of evidence that can help ascertain its authenticity. Hence, pay attention while signing your Will.
9. Make one or more copies of your will and store them separately from the original. You could keep one copy with the executor.
10. You can change your will anytime you want, but only the last one is considered legally valid. To be doubly sure, in case you do change, declare at the start of the new Will that this supersedes all previous ones. This may help in preventing confusion and conflicts in the future.
In the absence of a Will, your assets will be distributed among your heirs as per the Succession Laws pertaining to your religion.
Disclaimer: This article has been authored by The Source, a Mumbai-based content creation and curation firm. Axis Bank does not influence the views of the author in any way. Axis Bank and The Source shall not be responsible for any direct/indirect loss or liability incurred by the reader for taking any financial decisions based on the contents and information. Please consult your financial advisor before making any financial decision.