Q. I am Priya. My husband and I are in our late 50’s. We live in the UK. We have diverse sources of income including family business, real estate, and investment portfolios both in India and the UK. We are actively involved in charity initiatives. We wish to pass on a portion of our wealth to charity and the rest to our children. What is the best way to do this?
The answer is simple: prepare your Will. Now!
Do it when you still enjoy good health in body and mind. If you wait until you are ill or retired, or when you face a critical situation, you may rush into the wrong decisions. The circumstances may even negatively affect the validity of the Will.
As you have assets both in the UK and in India, you should have a Will in both these countries. This will ensure that country-specific legalities are met without any hassle in executing the provisions of your Will as per your wish. Relying on just one Will risks prolonging the probate process, potentially for years. Making local Wills to cover locally-held assets will speed up the process as the two Wills can be processed at the same time. It is your responsibility to ensure both your Wills have identical provisions without any conflict.
Here are a few steps that can help you prepare your Will.
List your assets
Before you begin writing the Will, make a list of all your assets: a) Physical—like real estate, vehicle b) Financial—bank accounts, investments, PPF c) Digital—contacts, social media accounts, credit card reward points d) Intangible—relationships, goodwill, skills, trademarks
Decide how you want to distribute these assets. In case of intangible assets, specifically mention who is authorised to use which asset.
Draft the Will
You can key in and print your Will or even write it by hand. However, it is advisable to seek the help of a legal professional to ensure the Will complies with all legal requirements. Please note that any form of digital Will or e-Will (like a recorded video or message) is considered invalid.
Appoint an executor
As the one who makes the Will, you are the testator and the person you legally empower to implement your Will is the executor. Choose a trusted person as the executor, one in each country to make it convenient and to save on expenses. The executor holds the assets after the testator’s death and implements the provisions of the Will. The responsibilities of an executor include fulfilling all obligations (including paying off outstanding debts) of the deceased as mentioned in the Will and giving consent for the transfer of assets to the beneficiaries or legatees under the Will. The executor is eligible neither to add or change any provision stipulated by the testator, nor can be held responsible for paying off any debt as stated in the Will.
The Will must be attested by at least two witnesses who must not be beneficiaries or their spouses. Witnesses should be present when you sign the Will and should also sign it.
Register the Will
Registering the Will provides safety and security in case the original Will is lost or misplaced, as the government authority retains a certified copy. To register the Will, you and the witnesses need to be present at the Sub-Registrar's office locally in India and provide required identification documents. In the UK it can be registered with the National Will Register.
Keep the original Will, signed, and witnessed, in a safe and secure place, such as a bank locker or a fireproof safe. Inform your executor and a close family member about the location of the Will. You are advised to keep it at a place where it is easily accessible to your close family members.
Review and update your Will periodically, if necessary. a) Prepare a codicil if you are making an alteration in the Will b) Overwrite the original and obtain new signatures of attesting witnesses. c) Prepare and execute a new Will altogether.
Inform relevant persons
Inform your family members and beneficiaries about the existence and location of the Will and the assets it covers. This is not mandatory but can help avoid confusion and potential disputes.
Remember that creating a Will can be complex, and laws do change over time. Therefore, it is always a good idea to seek professional legal advice from an expert experienced in estate planning to ensure your Will is valid and comprehensive. In your case, choose an expert who is conversant with legal provisions in both the UK and India.