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The Importance of Writing a Will- explained in layman terms

I will present this article using the most layman terms that I can manage. I’ve discovered through discussion with my friend on just how important writing a will is and I want to share what I know with you.

Malaysian laws on distribution if there is no will written

Malaysia abides by the Common Law when it comes to distribution. Therefore, in the event of a person’s demise without a will, his estate (whatever he owns such as property, bank account, shares, unit trust, etc) will be distributed equally between:

  • Both his parents by birth (their names must be in his birth cert)
  • His legally married wife
  • His children

The relationship has to be clearly proven with the use of birth certs, marriage certs and death certs.

This goes for all joint accounts as well- for example, if I have a joint account with my brother and if I pass away without a will, half of that portion will be frozen. My brother can only withdraw half and the other half is by law allocated to my legally married spouse, parents and my own children.

Sometimes, a son and father may set up a joint account together with ‘either or to sign’. So when the father passed away, before the police report is launched, the son may go to the account and attempt to withdraw out all the money. They think that it is safe to operate the account that way- but there have been cases that when the children attempted the withdraw, the bank will attempt to call the parent. Failing to reach the parent, the bank had refused to release the money. At the end, the funds get frozen until a letter of administration can be obtained. And the process can take years and thousands in legal fees, not to mention emotional trauma – when spending just a few hundred ringgit  can give a peace of mind.

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 Case study of my own late father.

The above is already determined by law if the person did not have a written will. Note that other relationships such as siblings, friends, relatives is NOT considered here.

When my father passed away years ago, he did not have a will. Therefore by law, his money in his bank accounts will be distributed equally between- both of his parents, his wife (my mom) and his children.

My grandfather passed away when my father was in his twenties. Now, when we went to court, we had to prove that my grandfather had already passed away, failing to do so, the portion set aside for my grandfather will be frozen and goes to the government. Luckily for us, we had:

  • Certified true copy of my grandfather’s death certificate
  • Certified true copy of my father’s birth cert to prove that my grandfather was indeed really my grandfather

You can see now that not in all cases the relationship can be established. For the case of my mom, she was given away for adoption when she was young. So she does not have details of both her parents (who are deceased), neither could she prove her relationship with them because my mom’s birth cert does not carry her parents name. So if my mom does not have a will, if anything happened to her, two portion of what she had will be frozen until it could be proven that her parents had really passed on.

So if you know your parents cannot prove that their parents (that is your real grandpa and grandma) had passed on (because in the days of wars when Chinese migrant workers first came to Malaysia, legalized documents were only produced later)- get them to write a will. Not the type that you scribble on a piece of paper but get a will company to do it- it’s better to pay a few hundred ringgit for a properly written will that cannot be challenged in court.

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If a will is drawn out, it will take precedence over the law. The owner can choose to designate what he owned to whoever and whatever he wished to like his siblings over his wife, his mistress….or like the case of Michael Jackson- he willed it to his pet monkey.

The case of the broom seller

My mom shared with me a true stories that hit the headlines in the 70s. There was this broom seller who had to cross the river every day to sell his brooms. One day, while crossing the river, he drowned.

At the funeral, the grieving wife got a shock of her life when another woman came with children tagging alongside claiming to be the broom seller’s ‘other wife’ to ask for a share in his money. The woman was from another race and the wife could see that the children had a mixed parentage.

So, a will gives everyone a peace of mind- else, you do not want relatives and strangers coming out from the woodwork or women claiming to be your mistresses challenging your estate when you passed on. If you have stated clearly in black and white on who to get what of it that you own, then you can rest assured that your money will be distributed according to your wish when you are no longer around.

If you love your loved ones, this is something that you will need to get drawn out and taken care of while you are alive.

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