Assets of a deceased widow go to her in-laws or parents? Know why making a Will is more important for a woman

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India is perhaps the epicentre of succession nightmares. Our legislation is largely male-centric, and women often find themselves battling cultural biases. The country has a long way to go when it comes to justified estate planning for women. There is more likelihood that in the absence of a Will, a woman’s assets will fall in the hands of people whom she never intended to. It’s about time that women take charge of their legacy.

Planning for a lasting legacy
We are plagued with sophisticated laws, religious differentiations, and circumstantial nuances that need to be carefully navigated to ensure that the last wishes of a woman are honoured.

The silver lining? A legally valid Will.

There is hardly any awareness around the adverse effects of women passing away intestate (that is without executing a Will). As a result of broken inheritance laws in India for women, the control of their assets rests in the hands of their husbands and in-laws.

For instance, if a Hindu woman passes away intestate with a predeceased husband and no offsprings, her entire self-acquired estate will automatically be inherited by her in-laws and not her own parents or siblings.

Let’s picture this, Sunita, a mother of two lost her husband in a tragic road accident. Trouble with her in-laws ultimately led her to return to her parents’ home. However, her parents faced financial difficulties and could not afford to provide for her and her daughters. She decided to take government exams and, upon succeeding, secured a decent job and a 2 BHK quarter in Delhi.

Unfortunately, 5 years later, Sunit passed away due to a heart disease, having never created a Will nor engaged in succession planning. As per the Hindu Succession Act, her self-acquired assets were distributed to her husband’s legal heirs, which included her in-laws and her two daughters. However, since her daughters were minors and unable to make claims on their own behalf, all her self-acquired assets were transferred to her in-laws, leaving her own parents with nothing.

In another case of a Muslim woman dying intestate, her self-acquired assets were distributed among her legal heirs in accordance with the Islamic Sharia Law. Since she died without a Will, her estate was distributed between her in-laws and children, with her son receiving twice as much as a daughter.

These are not isolated incidents, and the lack of preparation highlights the importance of creating a Will and making succession plans to ensure that one’s assets are distributed according to their wishes after their death.

Why a Will?

A Will allows one to dictate the distribution of their assets to family and friends as they see fit, and it enables them to direct the care of any dependents they may have. In the absence of a Will, one’s property is distributed according to the Succession Laws, leaving little room for individual discretion or preference. By drafting a Will, however, one can ensure that all their loved ones are taken care of, while also excluding anyone who should not receive their hard-earned assets.

For a mother, protecting the interests of her children is a top priority. If she has minor children, she can use her Will to appoint a legal guardian who will be responsible for all their daily needs, including food, housing, healthcare, education, and clothing. If one does not nominate a guardian in their Will, the court will choose one on their behalf, and this could be someone one would have otherwise never chosen.

How to write a Will

A Will can be drafted by following these basic steps, and can be done both online and offline:

  • Take inventory: Make a list of all assets, including property, investments, bank accounts, insurance policies, and personal belongings, as well as any debts or liabilities that need to be settled.
  • Choose beneficiaries: Clearly identify who should inherit your assets and in what proportion. One can name specific individuals or organisations, such as charities, as beneficiaries.
  • Appoint an executor: This is the person who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes as stated in the Will. Choose someone trustworthy and capable of handling the responsibilities involved.
  • Draft the Will: One can either draft a Will on their own or with the help of a legal professional. If one chooses to draft it on their own, use clear and unambiguous language to avoid any confusion.
  • Online Will drafting: One can also use online platforms providing convenient Will drafting services, with templates and step-by-step guidance to easily write their Will. It helps one to navigate the challenge of not being familiar with legal language / having to visit a lawyer.
  • Sign and witness: A valid Will must be signed by the testator (the one who makes the Will) and witnessed by at least two individuals. The witnesses should be of sound mind and not named as beneficiaries in the Will.
  • Store the Will: Safely store the Will in a secure location and inform the executor and close family members about its whereabouts. When using an online Will writing platform, it is also possible to store the Will digitally.

Understanding Indian inheritance laws and drafting a Will are crucial steps for women to protect their financial interests. A well-crafted one not only helps avoid potential disputes and financial instability but also serves as a lasting legacy for generations to come.

(The author is Founder & CEO, AasaanWill)

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