My wife has been pestering me on this matter of Wills and I finally see reason with her. She has contacted our family lawyer, she wants us to combine assets and write a joint Will. The problem is I have assets she does not know about which I would like my siblings to inherit, since our children will be well catered for.
My siblings and my wife don’t get along too well and she’s not likely to welcome the idea of willing anything to them. I’m worried. Is there a way to bequest these assets without listing them? Does every asset have to be stated categorically in the Will? Is a joint Will even possible or advisable?
Roland, from Port Harcourt
Let me start by commending your wife’s futuristic attitude. You should appreciate her for insisting that you protect your assets in a Will. She wants the best for you and your children. You have raised a number of issues, I will attempt to tackle them one at a time.
First, a joint Will is one which is co-signed by two or more persons (usually a married couple), which combines their individual wishes. It may also be appropriate in a situation where you and your spouse own most of your assets jointly.
Is there a way to bequest these assets without listing them?
There are other ways of transferring assets without using a Will. A Trust may be used. A trust is an arrangement where an individual transfers what he owns to an independent person or entity for the benefit of identified persons or entities.
You can establish a Trust and transfer the assets you wish to transfer to your siblings to the Trust. You may name yourself and your siblings as the beneficiaries of the Trust and instruct that the assets in the Trust be transferred to your siblings by the Trustee upon your demise. Once those assets are in a Trust, there is no need to reflect them in your Will. A corporate Trustee such as ARM Trustees Limited can act as Trustee to the Trust and provide you with guidance on establishing it.
You may also consider gifting those assets to your siblings now so that they assume ownership immediately. This might not be an attractive option as you would immediately lose control of any such assets that you gift.
Does every asset have to be stated categorically in the Will?
Where another estate plan (such as a Trust) exists together with a Will, it is not necessary to mention the Trust assets in the Will because those assets and the beneficiaries are already catered for under the Trust.
There are other assets such as Life Insurance which you need not include in a Will as your beneficiaries would have been named in the policy document already.
Is a joint Will even possible or advisable?
Joint Wills are seldom used nowadays because of their likelihood of creating future problems. One of the biggest potential problems is that the surviving spouse would be unable to change the terms of the Will regardless of changes in situations after the death of his or her spouse. A typical example could be the inability of a surviving spouse to leave some of the assets of a Joint Will to his or her stepchild after remarriage.
Whatever option you choose eventually, writing a Will is not negotiable, especially with existing undertones of disagreement between your spouse and extended family. The assurance that everyone will be well catered for should the unexpected occur will give you unrivalled peace.