The dispute over a will left by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has thrown the spotlight on a legal document, and process, that some in Singapore still consider taboo.
Lawyers and firms involved in will writing say only a small proportion of Singaporeans have done up wills to ensure their property is distributed according to the wishes they hold when they are still alive.
It is estimated that no more than 10 to 15 per cent of Singaporeans have made wills.
Some people think it is costly to get a will made, time-consuming and that all assets must be listed. Older people also consider it taboo to discuss death.
Mr Marcus Heng, 47, had updated his will twice, once after his second marriage and again after his younger daughter Leona was born with Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to heart defects, growth deficiencies and intellectual disability.
The most recent change was to include a clause that when he dies, Leona would be taken care of by a trust he had set up with the Special Needs Trust Company, a charity providing trust services to special-needs individuals.
“I realised that a will is very important because it will protect your family and avoid disputes,” said Mr Heng, who runs a training and consultancy business.
When a person dies without a will and leaves behind multiple potential beneficiaries, the court will need to work out who gets what according to the Intestate Succession Act, depending on which family relations are still alive, leading to high legal fees.
Many had thought that writing a Will is a simple process and there was some government department to take care of it. However, without a will, there will be layers of trouble added, making the process even more troublesome.
“Without a will, you’re adding layers of trouble to an already very troublesome process.”
Others rely on alternatives.
Retiree Thomas Abraham, 65, whose wife co-owns their Housing Board flat in Pasir Ris, signed up for the CPF Nomination Scheme in which his wife will get 50 per cent of his CPF savings and his two children – a son and a daughter – will get 25 per cent each. When he dies, she gets the flat.
Madam Phyllis Peh, 55, began to reorganise her family’s finances soon after her husband Michael Ong was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in May last year.
Although Mr Ong has no will, he jointly owns the flat with his wife, which she will get, and they recently transferred the ownership of their car to their only daughter.
Madam Peh said she was considering making her own will, to ensure that her estate would go to her daughter, their only child, and no one else. “You should do it earlier while you are of sound mind.
Wills are not limited to the people who hold millions.
We are seeing a trend in Singapore. More and more people are wealthier and have fewer children as compared to decades ago. There will be concern in how their money goes.