In my article published in August 2017 entitled “Have You Prepared Your Will?” I dealt with the general process of making a will, the advantages of having a will made, and some questions that I have answered from my clients over the years with regards to the will-writing process.
I have since then received further queries on whether it is necessary or mandatory for one to use the services of a law firm, or a professional will-writer for the purposes of writing a will. This article will deal with that question from a legal and practical perspective.
Firstly, the law does not compel you to appoint a law firm or a professional will-writer to have your will written.
Unlike applying for Letters of Administration or a Grant of Probate where the services of a lawyer are required for the purposes of filing the requisite applications in Court, will-writing can be done by the individual.
However, when you undertake the will-writing process without the services of a professional, it is prudent that you are fully aware of the requirements and intricacies of the laws relating to inheritance, in particular, the Distribution Act 1958, The Wills Act 1959 and the Probate and Administration Act 1960.
Will Writing: Dos and Don’ts
The worst thing you can do is to use a standard template obtained from the internet, which could eventually lead to various problems, including your will being challenged.
Neither should you use templates given to you by friends as their wills may have been drafted under different circumstances from yours.
It is important to remember that a lack of clarity and vital omissions in your will can lead to disputes between your family members and unnecessary protracted and costly litigation.
If you wish to intentionally leave out a particular family member from your will, it is advisable that you set out expressly that you wish for this person to be excluded and give reasons for that exclusion. This will reduce the chances of a successful challenge in Court.
There have even been circumstances where the Courts have gone against the contents of the Will, and pursuant to the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act 1971, made provisions for other members of the family, where the Court was of the opinion that the deceased had not made reasonable provisions for the maintenance of a particular dependent.
When the Court makes such a decision to contradict or go against the contents of a will, the Court will consider all circumstances, including the assets and income of the dependent, the conduct and relationship of the dependent with the deceased, the size of the estate, and the interest of the named beneficiaries.
If you are unwell or are under heavy medication for a prolonged sickness, it is advisable that you get your doctor to confirm your state of mind when your will is being signed, as there have been instances where a will has been challenged on the grounds that the deceased was of unsound mind or under heavy medication, and therefore, making it impossible for the deceased to have known what document he or she was signing, let alone the contents of the said document.
The Courts have in the past dealt with disputes where family members have challenged a will on the basis that the contents of the will had been altered, the signature of the deceased had been forged and that the execution of the will was not properly witnessed.
It is prudent to note here that wills do not need to be stamped, but there is a requirement in law for the will to be properly witnessed.
I have read lots of articles about this matter and have heard many people say that will-writing is a simple matter that any lay person should be able to handle on their own.
However, I am cautious about taking such a position as it may not be as simple as it seems, as I have described above.
Knowledge is Key
Firstly, you must be very clear in expressing your intentions in writing. It is advisable to appoint a professional, who will be able to craft your thoughts and intention on paper, rather than to be left with a document that is ambiguous, and thus open to challenge in the future.
It is also necessary for you to constantly review and update the contents of your will. This is important as you may have sold some of your properties and may want to omit those properties from your will.
In other circumstances, the status of your relationships may have changed and you may want your will to reflect that. It is important to make those changes and have it properly documents.
There have been circumstances where family members have produced two different wills by the deceased in Court and have challenged the authenticity of later will.
It is my opinion that one should not look too lightly at the will writing process. From a litigation lawyer’s perspective, a badly drafted will can mean years of protracted, costly litigation and years of turmoil and dispute between warring family members.
It is important that one does not leave a legacy of strife and for that, I would advise that the services of a professional be sought for the purposes of writing your will.
About the author
SHARMILA RAVENDRAN is the founder of the law firm, Messrs Ravindran located in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. She has more than 14 years of experience in the legal industry servicing clients that include local and foreign companies. She is now actively involved in corporate advisory work and commercial litigation and is a Panel Adjudicator with the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration. She also sits on the Bar Council Child Rights Committee and is the Legal Director for Lean in Malaysia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.