Home >Opinion >Columns >Imagine you are dead. Now don’t take life for granted and write that Will
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Imagine you are dead. Now don’t take life for granted and write that Will

You don’t need a stamp paper to write a Will. Also, you don’t need to register it in most cases

We’re at the stage in the covid-19 journey where the fear of death is fast getting replaced by the fear of the healthcare system—at least in cities like Delhi that have seen flip flops by the state government and very poor use of the lockdown days to plan for the expected peak in June. The safety protocols that were in decline got a revisit as we got to know of people around us who got the disease. Their horror stories of dealing with the healthcare system scared us right back to self-isolation and the ritualistic cleaning and disinfecting after every visit outside the house.

But once fear sets in, it is difficult to shake off. The number of people pinging, mailing and calling me to figure out their Wills grew as our own taken-for-granted mortality became a question mark. Even if the disease does not kill me, joked a friend, the healthcare system in Delhi will.

Another friend sent across a protocol on what to do if you got the disease. This included putting away valuables, taking your phone, charger, insurance cards and money with you to the hospital if you were unlucky enough to need hospitalization. Finding a way to let people left at home continue to run the home—so transferring money into their accounts or giving them access to your account, or filling their e-wallets with money. The scary part of that protocol deals with death—if you die in the hospital there is no way that there will be last words said and instructions given on where the financial papers are and how to access assets. This has triggered many versions of a Will in different homes that include creating an excel sheet with all the assets and telling family members what is where to actually getting down to writing that Will.

The best way to do this is to actually imagine you are dead. We are overly emotional about our own mortality, but it helps to see it from the outside, like watching a movie. So you are dead. Now your soul can see the emotional distress of the family and then comes the financial distress. However, much we may like to believe that we are indispensable, life goes on till there is life. Provisions need to be bought, rents and EMI will be paid, salaries to home staff is due. Imagine all this before you sit down to write your Will. Imagine that you are gone and then imagine that both you and your spouse are gone. Write a Will that takes care of every situation you can think of. If you have minor kids, choose guardians very carefully and inform them. Inform the kids as well—they are far more resilient and actually feel more secure if they know there is a protocol in place.

Make a list of assets, bank accounts, lockers and their contents, insurance policies, real estate and whatever else that is valuable and attach it as annexures to the Will. Maybe a good idea to keep your passwords for various accounts in a safe place and the location be made known to your immediate family. I obsessively write down each new password and the family knows where I keep it. I have done this for the last many years, not because I am paranoid, but because I care for my family today and will continue the care after I am gone.

Some practical dos and don’ts. Make individual Wills for you and your spouse. You don’t need a stamp paper—any paper will do. You don’t need to get it registered in most cases. You need two witnesses to witness your signature on the Will. They don’t need to know the contents. Put down the witness name, date of birth, address, phone number, email, PAN and Aadhaar numbers—basically any information that you will not be around to give. You need to initial each page and then sign on the last, so will the witnesses. Your Will should have address, phone number, email, PAN number and the location of some of these documents such as passport, PAN cards, car papers, insurance policy papers, real estate documents, locker number, the keys, the secret code for the locker key—again every detail that you are not around to give. The beneficiary, which means those who benefit from the Will—spouse, parents, kids, whoever, must not be a witness. Usually, people choose their trusted family friends—people who are much younger than themselves, a financial planner, a lawyer, a doctor—to be a witness.

Take this exercise as a covid-19 gift—the death rates in India are still low and the probability of you surviving the disease is high. But why waste this opportunity to put your affairs in order since there is an unintended consequence sitting at the end of the exercise. Because when you do this exercise while you are fit and with the family, it washes away the fine lines of irritation and discord that tend to build when people live together. It takes you down to the total basics of who you are as a family. And at least in many cases, helps you actually have better relationships than before.

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

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