By Lorna Tan
Many Singaporeans have delayed making their wills and trusts, partly because they just don't know how to go about it and also because they do not know who they could appoint as an executor or trustee.
These findings stemmed from a recent survey aimed at highlighting awareness of estate planning and how instruments such as wills, family trusts and other options can be used.
The survey questioned 751 people who were among 2,051 attendees at a two-day forum organised by estate planning firm Rockwills Trustee.
While the poll noted that 33 per cent of respondents had drawn up their wills, Rockwills estimated that at a national level, no more than 15 to 20 per cent of Singaporeans have done so.
Chief executive Lee Chiwi says: "Most respondents who had not drawn up their wills will want to do their wills but have delayed it or did not know how they should start. This... strongly suggests that there is much room for public education on will-making."
The survey found that 25 per cent of respondents had foreign assets, which can make issues like probate, estate duty, stamp duties, transfer and capital gains taxes and forced heirship trickier.
These people will likely need more specific advice on how they should deal with these assets through the use of a second will, a corporate vehicle or trust.
Mr Lee notes that about 49 per cent of the respondents showed significant interest in using trusts for estate planning.
This signals a shift from the perception that trusts are relevant only to the wealthy, to one where they could also work for other families.
"Indeed, 10 per cent of such respondents said they were serious and in the midst of trust planning," he adds.
"As the bulk of respondents said they were not sure how they could proceed, there could be a market for non-complex revocable trust solutions for the mass-affluent families.
"These solutions have to be competitively priced to be affordable."
The poll found that 39 per cent of respondents said they did not have enough assets to settle a trust, or felt that their beneficiaries could handle the funds themselves.
LPAs AND AMDs
The survey showed that only around 15 per cent of respondents had done a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and/or an Advance Medical Directive (AMD), with most citing procrastination or ignorance on how to get started.
An LPA allows people to voluntarily appoint one or more persons (donees) to take decisions and act on their behalf as a proxy decision-maker if they lose mental capacity one day.
An AMD allows you to register in advance your wishes not to have any extraordinary life-sustaining treatment to prolong life when you are suffering from specific medical conditions.
A common thread in some of the responses as to why people have delayed drawing up a will or other documents is that they do not know a person they could trust to act as executor or trustee.
Mr Lee notes that this is a role lawyers and trust companies can fulfil but their services in this area are not well publicised.
While the impetus for estate planning for many Singaporeans would largely be driven by the desire to protect and maintain family members, Mr Lee says there is room to promote the idea of giving to charity as well.
PROFILE OF INDIVIDUALS WITH ESTATE PLANNING NEEDS
Mr Lee also notes that there is more urgency for people aged over 35 to do estate planning.
"The person who is above 35 and married with a spouse and children would fit the profile of persons with more pressing needs and thus ready to engage in estate planning."
The 751 people surveyed included 32 per cent who were either single, divorced or widowed.
The likely concerns of this group would involve estate planning to deal with their own welfare and property affairs at the time of old age and elderly vulnerability.
"This group will be interested in instruments for asset protection of their property affairs and appointment of trusted parties and putting in place advance care plans to deal with mental incapacity and infirmity," adds Mr Lee.
LEGACY PLANNING TOOLS
A will is a declaration by you about the distribution and management of your estate, which includes your assets. It takes effect after your death.
A trust serves to protect family assets that otherwise might fall into the hands of beneficiaries who may be too young to receive substantial inheritances or are spendthrifts, financially immature or even vulnerable.
The ultimate distributions to them should be delayed for certain periods of time to ensure they receive their inheritance when they reach a certain age or maturity.
LASTING POWER OF ATTORNEY (LPA)
An LPA is drawn up to appoint people entrusted to look after you (the donor) at a time when you lose mental capacity. There are two aspects of the caregiving - personal welfare and property and financial affairs.
ADVANCE MEDICAL DIRECTIVE (AMD)
An AMD expresses your intention that no extraordinary life-sustaining treatment should be applied if you suffer from terminal illness and become unconscious or incapable of exercising rational judgment.