Writing a Will seems so complicated. While my previous article on How to make a Will for Free in India busted that myth and showed how anyone can write a valid Will on plain paper, this article will focus on 25 things to remember while writing a Will. You can use this as a checklist for making a Will.
So let us get started.
1. Write the Will in your own handwriting
Drafting a Will on a computer, taking a printout and signing it is very convenient. But my suggestion will be to always write Will in your own handwriting. I say this because anyone can challenge a computer-drafted Will saying the contents were modified. All one has to do is take a new print-out and somehow get a signature (which as Hindi movies show is not very difficult 🙁 ). However, if a Will is hand-written, then it becomes difficult to modify it. It is not easy to replicate the entire page written in someone else’s handwriting as handwriting experts can easily pick the changes.
So, always write your Will in your own handwriting.
2. Always use legal names while writing a Will
In India, many people change their names. They either shorten a long name by converting the middle name into initials (eg – Venkat Santosh Reddy changes to Venkat S Reddy or just Venkat Reddy) or change their name after marriage (eg – Naina Sharma changes to Naina Mathur) or due to belief in astrology/numerology (eg – Pooja becomes Puja). Whatever the case, always ensure that you use legal names in the Will (Legal names are those which appear in government documents – passport/pan/adhaar card etc). And ensure that you use legal names for everyone – yourself, parents, beneficiaries, witness, executor etc.
3. Mention complete details of everyone
Giving complete details will help pinpoint exactly whom you are referring to. Names like Amit, Neha etc are very common and it can become confusing if you do not give complete details.
So always give complete details of yourself, beneficiaries, witness and executor – legal name, parents name, address, relationship. Also, mention their government id proof details so that it can be used for identification purpose if required.
4. Declare about your health
Clearly mention that you are in good physical and mental health and are writing the Will as per your free wish without any influence, force, or pressure from anyone. This sentence should be part of your Will to ensure that there are no claims about Will being written under pressure or unsound mind.
5. Mention the date and confirm that this is your last Will
Clearly mention the date you are writing the Will on and that this is your last Will and any previous Will should be considered null and void. This will help avoid challenges if there are other versions of the Will you might have created earlier.
6. Provide details of the executor of the Will
An executor is someone who will read out your Will in front of the beneficiaries. So mention all the details about him/her so that there is no confusion on who can open the Will after your death.
7. Give full details of all the assets you own
Try giving all the possible details of your assets. Elaborate details which will help pinpoint exactly what you own where. So bank account number, bank and branch name, ifsc code, city etc should be mentioned, similarly property id number, property details, ownership details etc.
8. Focus only on self-owned and self-acquired assets
An important thing to remember while writing a Will is that Will cannot be written for assets that were passed to you by ancestors or someone else. Will should only cover the assets you own and which you acquired on your own in your lifetime.
9. You cannot write a Will for assets that you jointly own
In case you have a joint asset (like a joint locker or joint property with a spouse), you cannot write a Will distributing the entire asset. You can only distribute your percentage ownership in the joint asset. So if you own a property in 50%-50% with your wife, you can write a Will only for the 50% of the property you own and not for the part your wife owns.
10. You cannot write a Joint Will
One point to consider while writing a Will is that you cannot make a joint Will with anyone else. You cannot say that my wife and I own this property in a 50% ratio each and we pass all the ownership to our daughter. This is not acceptable as you cannot decide on behalf of others. Your Will has to be about what you own and how you plan to distribute it.
11. Handle Future/Missed assets problem
No matter how careful you are, there are chances that you might forget something while writing a Will. Also, even after writing a Will, you will continue to live and acquire more assets. In case you forget to update your Will for such assets, it becomes a headache for people to decide who will be the beneficiary of such assets.
So clearly detail what happens to assets you missed writing / acquire in future.
12. Never use numbers while distributing assets
This is one of the common Will mistakes. You should not mention your bank balance in numbers while writing a Will. This is because these numbers may change. So if you have 10 Lakhs in your bank balance while writing a Will, it may change to 5 Lakh or 20 Lakh after few years when you die and the Will is executed. Beneficiaries will not know who should get the difference amount causing problems while distributing the assets.
So always use % mode. Tell that I pass on 100% ownership of my bank balance to my son or I split it 50% each between my son and daughter.
13. Handling minor beneficiaries case
If you are assigning anything to a minor, give all details related to the legal guardian. Add information on till what age of minor can legal guardian manage the asset and whether he will get income to manage the expenses. Also mention if the legal guardian will be able to spend/use any asset to cover up for expenses while taking care of the minor. And have details of when the asset should be passed on to the minor – as soon as s/he turns 18 or later.
14. Detail what happens if a beneficiary dies before you
Mention details of how your assets should be distributed in case the beneficiary dies before Will is executed (use the pre-deceased word). This helps to pass on the assets. Ensure that you mention this for all beneficiaries.
Tip – Also add a paragraph detailing what happens if all beneficiaries are unfortunately dead. An ideal answer is to pass on the assets to a beneficiary which cannot die – like some NGO / Organization / Charity etc.
15. Do not keep beneficiaries as Witness
It is recommended not to have beneficiaries acquiring assets as witnesses. This is because witnesses see the Will while signing it and in the future, there can be claims that the witness manipulated the Owner to change the Will and make him a beneficiary. Hence, always keep beneficiaries and witnesses separate.
16. You and Witness should sign all pages of the Will
Signing on all the pages helps establish that you have written the Will yourself. This reduces the possibility of counterfeiting the Will or anyone objecting that the Will content has changed.
17. Will has to be written and signed by you and witness on the same day
Do not delay between writing the Will and signing it. It should be done on the same day. Reason – for one, you never know when you will die. You don’t want a situation where you have written the Will but it is not valid because it was not signed by you and the witness. Secondly, delays in signing can give people a chance to say later that owner of the Will was mentally unstable while signing the Will and hence it is not valid.
18. Sign the Will in front of witnesses
You should always sign the Will only in front of 2 witnesses. And remember that these witnesses cannot be beneficiaries in your Will.
19. Take a video recording of yourself reading the Will
Not a mandatory thing but this will help validate that you have written the Will. Just record a video reading out your Will and give it to the executor. Or publish it privately on Youtube with the link given only to the executor.
20. Keep the Will in an envelope and seal it
Once your Will is written and signed by you and the witness, seal it in an envelope and hand it over to the executor. A sealed Will helps strengthen the authenticity of the Will. Seal it by sticking the envelope flap properly, tape it, and cross sign it.
21. Mention in whose presence the Will has to be opened
On the top of the envelope, write details of the executor and people in front of whom the Will has to be opened. If there is a space crunch, just mention the name, phone number of each person.
22. Do not over-write/scratch on the Will
If a Will has scratches/over-writing, it becomes very easy for others to modify the Will. Such Will is not acceptable. So, ensure that your Will is free of over-writing / scratching.
23. Number all the pages in the format of Page 1 of X
Your Will should have page numbers on all the pages. And it has to be in the format of page 1 of 5, page 2 of 5 and so on. This way, imposters will not be able to add any extra page as part of your Will.
24. Inform people who is the executor of your Will
So you have done everything – written a will, signed, and handed it over to the executor. But you forgot to inform your family of who the executor is. What if the executor is not in constant touch with you and is not aware of when you die. All the trouble you went through will go to waste!
So always inform your family about your will and who the executor is. And keep in constant touch with him/her. In case s/he dies before you, ensure that you appoint a new executor in the will and pass on the will and the video to him/her.
25. Keep it simple
One of the most important things to remember while writing a Will. Will should be simple to understand and unambiguous. Do not use complex jargon or confusing language.
Hope you find this checklist useful for writing a Will. Please share your comments and feedback.
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