Monday, September 28, 2009

Estate planning

Most people should have a will and an enduring power of attorney.

A will is simply instructions for dealing with your assets after your death. If you do not have a valid will, your assets will be divided according to the laws of the relevant jurisdiction - which may not be the way in which you would like them to be divided. The basic requirements for a valid will under Hong Kong law are:

(i) your signature must be witnessed by two mentally sound adults who are not beneficiaries under the will;

(ii) you must be an adult of sound mind at the time you make the will.

It is not necessary for a will to be prepared or witnessed by a lawyer. However, having a lawyer prepare the will does reduce the risk of mistakes being made (e.g. not all of your assets being included in the will, excluding persons who are entitled to a share of your estate by law etc). We used the services of a lawyer to make sure that we did not make any of these mistakes.

Our estate planning is relatively simple:

(i) I have left my entire estate to be divided equally among my children (to be held in trust while they are young) - my wife does not benefit at all;

(ii) my wife will take my interest in two properties in which we are "tenants in common" - this takes place by operation of law and falls outside my estate;

(iii) a life insurance policy will pay a lump sum to my wife which is intended to be sufficient to discharge the mortgage on our home. Due to drawing down to fund an investment in my employer, the amount of the policy is no longer sufficient. I will increase this when the policy comes up for renewal in February next year. The same policy also provides for smaller payments to my siblings.

My wife's will is also simple with certain life interests to her parents and the rest to our children.

The lawyer we used confirmed that these arrangements are compliant with Hong Kong legal requirements for testamentary dispositions.

An enduring power of attorney is an authority and/or directions to be followed in the event that you are still alive but unable to direct your own affairs. This can happen to people who suffer from deteriorating mental capability as they age, in a coma etc. I do not have an enduring power of attorney but should get one.

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