Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Opinion | The Will. The Witness. And the Will Party

Have a Will party in your 40s and change the Will as you go along if you need to

When you get to the stage that there are more funerals and prayer meetings than birthday parties to attend, you know that you have crossed the line that marks the declivity towards death. At the after-meal at one such prayer meeting in the home of a close relative, the post-lunch groups broke age-wise into huddles. While the generation Z was in one room bent over their devices, each communicating with other gen Zs, the over 70s were in another room, heads close together. We, in-betweens, looked after both before our own huddle. After two decades of work, the extended family has finally accepted the fact that I might know a bit about money and finances. So, I am summoned to the old gang to discuss Wills —“Monika ko bulao," rings the command from the eldest silver. As I wade in, I find the group divided down the middle. One set is vociferous in their pro-Will stand and recommends handwritten Wills over an online standard format. The other group looks suspicious. They fear two things and are over-confident of a third. One, the acceptance of their end of time. Two, the fear of the kids not looking after them once the assets are earmarked. Three, they are confident that their kids will not fight over assets—however big or small—and that a Will is needed only if there is a dispute. “My kids will never fight" is almost a statement of faith about their own parenting skills.

While the first fear is for each person to deal with, the only solution I can offer is to tell them that death does not wait for old age, but can fall on your head with a broken fan or touch your pancreas with madly multiplying cells without a thought for your age. But the second one can be addressed better. The Will is a transfer of asset after you have passed and can be changed at any point. If, after writing the Will, there is an indication that the kids have lowered the care or attention that you think you need, it can be changed. We should not hesitate to have an alternate plan for asset bequeath—an ashram, an NGO or a favourite neighbour or niece, a friend, or a trusted household help. If the relationship with the kids is rotten, then use your assets the way you want rather than be beholden to do the “right" thing. Also, remember that only you need to know the contents of your Will. There’s no need to disclose who gets what beforehand. The third one is possibly the biggest reason for not writing a Will—my kids are not like that. In most cases, the Will is not created to prevent dispute, but to make easy the intergenerational transfer of assets. A valid Will just makes the paperwork easier after you are no longer coughing in the next room shouting out instructions on which drawer your papers are in. Look at the Will as your living presence after you are gone that helps your kids with the paperwork.

But our attitudes towards the emotionally charged Will issue seem to be changing. Last week I was called to a new kind of party—a Will party. The Will process needs two witnesses to the signature on the Will documents of the creator of the Will. As witnesses, we were treated to lunch and then the Will signing and witnessing. There was good cheer all around and the satisfaction of a job well done. There had been months of work ahead of this Sunday lunch when the assets were enumerated, the sharing between the kids worked out and agreed upon. The papers drawn up and read. Close friends of the inheriting children of the septuagenarian couple were chosen for their younger age and goodwill for the family. A date agreed upon in advance in a well-planned execution of this intergenerational transfer of assets. As witnesses, you do not need to know the contents of the Will. You are just confirming that this document was signed at this time and place in front of you—you are literally just the witness to the document being signed and have nothing to do with the contents.

I am expecting this trend of a Will party to grow as we overcome our hesitation about thinking about our own death and being okay with it. Encourage the family to think about this very dignified way to hand over the baton to the next generation. Or if you’re not happy with them, to whoever you deem fit. Remember, neither the beneficiary nor the witness but only you need to know the contents of your Will

Also, no need to wait for your 70s and 80s, have a Will party in your 40s and change the Will as you go along if you need to. Sometimes, writing a Will also puts a lot of things in their boxes and settles unresolved issues.

Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation

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