More wills being written as taboo fades

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 May, 2007, 12:00am

Elderly come to terms with their mortality to secure the future of their estates

More people are consulting lawyers to draw up wills as elderly property owners overcome traditional reluctance to talk about death and take steps to secure their estates' future.

Probate practitioners are reporting a growing trend in will-making across all classes and ages.

Bill Ma, of Hobson and Ma solicitors, said: 'They cover all levels, in particular landed property owners, although many of them hold properties under joint names.'

Many elderly people long settled in Hong Kong, as well as recent cross-border wedded couples, are realising tracking down paperwork to prove entitlement can prove troublesome, so they are ensuring wills are drawn up to avoid confusion and delay.

'If a person dies without a will, documentary proof of the relationship of the deceased and the applicant will be required to determine the right of entitlement. This will complicate the application,' Mr Ma said.

'Given the fact that there are many people migrated from mainland China, the production of official marriage certificates and birth certificates will take some time. It's not only costly and time-consuming, but also difficult.'

Professional Wills Ltd, a company with a mostly expatriate clientele, is 'inundated' with clients, said Jessica Park, one of the firm's will writers.

'We believe it is highly advisable for local people to draw up wills, too. Perhaps it's a cultural issue, but we see that it's slowly changing, however, not fast enough,' Ms Park said.

With high-profile cases such as the long-running dispute involving Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum and her father-in-law - and now the likelihood of the late Wang's own will leading to even more complicated litigation - people are becoming aware of the need to finalise will details.

David Lin, of C.P. Lin & Co, said: 'I feel that with the increase in the dissemination of information relating to the subject, increasingly affordable legal assistance being made available in Hong Kong and the readiness of especially the elderly in accepting that will preparation is not taboo, the number of people requesting help in this area has been on the rise.'

By far the most common beneficiaries of wills are spouses or immediate family members, with few people opting for complex estate planning, Mr Lin said, but many also choose to leave part of their estates to charity.

'Even charitable bequests can be very simply achieved, and I believe Hong Kong people have shown that they are no less generous in this area compared to the rest of the world,' he said.

'There can be a number of reasons why testators would prefer more complex arrangements, for example where the assets are not straightforward or simply held, where the beneficiaries require special arrangements, or where the testator has special requirements.'

While there are no figures available from the judiciary specifically on the number of wills that have been filed with its probate office, it is seeing an annual increase in probate applications across the board.

Last year, 15,298 applications were filed - including wills, grant entitlements and summary administrations - compared to 13,547 in 2005, 12,945 in 2004 and 12,569 in 2003.

With the abolition of estate duty in 2005, estate, succession and will planning became more flexible, according to practitioners.

Better safe than sorry

Basic will-making steps

Sign will before two witnesses, who also sign

Neither witness can be beneficiary

State that you are of sound mind, aged over 18 and made will voluntarily

If elderly or sick, ask doctor to supply letter saying you are of sound mind

Appoint an executor

Keep will in solicitor?s office or another safe place

Let executor know where will is

Nominate guardian for minor children

Amend will whenever major life event occurs, such as getting married, divorced, having a child or moving house

Review will ever y five years

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