This is a guest post by BH. BH is a healthcare professional who takes a keen interest in palliative care. He applies to his personal financial affairs the same level of meticulousness he displays at work. He has kindly agreed to contribute articles on issues that is close to heart. BH is also a BigFatPurse reader and a long time childhood friend.
In my previous post, I wrote about getting a will and a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) done. Well, I finally got mine done last week.
I have been thinking about getting my will done for quite some time. Attending the BigFatPurse talk about will writing was certainly a push factor for me. The speaker, Patrick from SimplyWills, was most entertaining, turning a morbid topic into a class full of lively examples and laughter.
I vaguely remembered that a will didn't need to be drafted by a lawyer. In fact, you can write your own will as long as you know the requirements. Patrick confirmed this right at the start of the session. Despite that his company providing will writing service for a fee, he shares a similar mission as BFP. That is, to educate the masses in areas of knowledge deficits that they were specialised in.
It didn't matter to him if the attendees decide to write their own wills after learning from the talk. The objectives of getting people to get their wills done had been achieved.
Requirements of a will
The talk taught me what are the requirements of a will. I needed to think of who I want to appoint to execute my will. I have 2 young children and thus need to appoint a trustee for them. The trustee can be the same person as the executor.
I also need to think about who should be the guardian for my children if my wife and I pass away together in a common disaster. These were hard questions that one probably didn't give much thought to. I quote Patrick's words:
If you are having difficulty deciding who can fit that role, what makes you think the courts can do a better job?
That set me and my wife thinking.
I needed 2 witnesses who are not beneficiaries of my will when I sign on my will. I do not need to list my assets in my will. The will only addresses how I want my assets to be distributed when I pass away. I also need to address how I want to distribute funds in joint accounts and items in the safe.
I needed to create a Schedule of Assets, which lists all my worldly possessions, i.e properties, investments, bank accounts, insurance policies, motor vehicles, and liabilities. This is a necessary piece of document that the court requires when my executor applies for the Grant of Probate to handle my estate. This also enables my executor to know where to go to close my bank accounts and claim my insurance monies for distribution.
This schedule should be updated on a regular basis, maybe once a year or two. It does NOT need to be witnessed or signed. In fact, this is something that everyone should have even if you do not have a will, so that the person administering your estate know where your assets are. Consolidating my insurance policies made me realise that I am worth a lot more when dead than alive!
My wife and I discussed about the names of the people we wanted to appoint, who to be the beneficiaries of the estate. We discussed and agreed that my brother-in-law will be the guardian of our children should both of us pass away. We met up with him to discuss this. At the same time, I got him and his wife interested to start thinking about their own wills and LPAs.
My wife and I decided to get our wills done at SimplyWills, instead of writing our own. It's a small price to pay ($400 for couple, $250 for individuals) to make sure that the will is valid when it needs to be executed. SimplyWills provided the 2 witnesses.
We fixed an appointment, submitted our requirements online and met up with Sally, who drafted and explained the contents of our wills. She also ensured that the will instructions closed off any open loops that can potentially give rise to issues upon execution. The whole process took us 1 hour and we were done.
On the same day, we also did our nominations for our CPF Dependants' Protection Scheme payout. This payout is no longer covered by your CPF nomination and nominations will have to be made to the insurer (either NTUC Income or Great Eastern) administering your DPS.
Staff at SimplyWills were kind enough to witness those nominations for us simply as a goodwill gesture. We also learnt that insurance payouts are faster if one has made nomination. Otherwise, it can be distributed according to the will.
We then adjourned to an accreditated LPA certificate issuer clinic to do our LPA. The doctor was friendly, explained to us what we were signing for and made sure we understood, as well as the possible scenarios that could happen. 30 minutes later, we are done and ready to mail off the signed forms to the Office of the Public Guardian.
The process of doing the LPA was straightforward. but we had to call a few clinics before we got an appointment, because the doctor named in the clinic listing had to be around (year end season, doctors on leave etc…). The clinic we went to does LPA consultations during lunchtime so as not to hold back walk-in consultations.
LPA consultation typically costs around $120-$150 per person. One may baulk at the cost, but think of the hassles it will save when your loved one needs to step up to the role. Applying to the courts to be appointed as a deputy is a nightmare.
Morbid Discussions of Death
The doctor was relatively surprised when he heard my relatively young age (I am below 40), and I currently had no chronic illness. He shared with us that he had more elderly patients doing their LPAs. This observation concurs with studies done that the elderly are not as death-denying as we assumed them to be. Given an appropriate opportunity, they are more than willing to discuss morbid topics like this.
It is the younger generation that think this is taboo and avoid it for fear of inviting it, assuming their elderly folks don't want to talk about it. As a result, opportunities were lost to find out what our parents. Instead we do what we think is best for them.
A local study has pointed out that there is a disparity on the kind of decisions the elderly would make for themselves vs what the caregivers will make at the end-of-life. Think about this: If you do not want your children to make care decisions on your behalf and possibly end up fighting over disagreements, your parents probably don't want the same. Wouldn't it be better to appoint someone who you believe will follow your wishes?
And if you are going to be the substitute decision maker should your parents are not able to, wouldn't it be better to discuss them now when you are able to? Discussing about wills and LPA is an excellent platform to find out more about one's preferences and wishes. Paternalism in the care of our seniors in this sense, is not always beneficial.
After finishing up the LPA, we adjourned to the nearest CPF office to redo our CPF nominations (You can choose to download the form, get it signed and witnessed, and mail it back to CPF Board). The last time we did this was before the birth of our younger child.
We have now decided to leave 100% of our CPF savings to each other. It was a sound decision for us because CPF monies can be released rather quickly and it will be good cashflow to tide through the crisis. Had I chosen to leave my CPF monies to my children, it will mean that their share will be held by the Public Trustee till they turn 18.
We managed to sort out everything in one day. It was tiring but fruitful. We were glad knowing that things are in place.
A Wonderful Learning Journey
Reflecting on the whole process of reviewing my family's insurance coverage, writing a will and doing a LPA, it has been a wonderful learning journey. Other than making concrete plans for the "what if" day, it had also exposed the planning gaps that we would otherwise missed, and allowed us to approach them systematically.
For example, the appointment of a guardian for our children in the event of a common disaster, approaching my brother-in-law to seek his agreement and the subsequent discussion about it. While it remains a remote possibility that this will happen, no one said never.
My wife and I had a rough idea of what kind assets that each other had, but nothing beats listing them down in the Schedule of Assets. The whole process was an excellent platform for my wife and I to discuss all these topics in a proper setting, set the right expectations and clarify doubts. We didn't leave certain parts of the discussion hanging in the air because it was uncomfortable.
For the LPA, I have chosen my wife to be my welfare and property donee, and extended the authority for her to decide on my behalf to accept and reject medical treatment options. It was as good as signing away a blank cheque to her to manage my affairs should I become unable to. A lot of "what if's" propped up.
For us, it was an internal reflection and affirmation of the faith we had in each other in such a major decision. This trust doesn't come by just because we are husband and wife. We jokingly told each other not to take the money and run away.
We also agreed that these decisions are not cast in stone. We will review our wills and LPAs at the next major life milestone, or when a life event calls for it. For now, I know that should something happen to me, she will not have to worry about finances or financial decisions and concentrate on her other roles because it will already be hard.
For the record, I am not paid for writing this and other articles. I write because I have learnt from BFP and it is my way of paying it forward. I hope readers will find it useful.