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This article is written by Tejas Parab, a Mumbai based Lawyer. In this article, he has explained how to go forward with estate and succession planning during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“The pandemic is moving like a wave—one that may yet crash on those least able to cope”.

 

Introduction

The coronavirus also known to be as COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. The cases are rising daily in India. Across the world, shops, theatres, restaurants and bars have been closed. Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. There are daily increasing numbers of cases of coronavirus among migrant workers who have just returned home. The International Labour Organization estimates that 195 million jobs could be lost in near future. Due to the lockdown and the social distancing norms, a unique opportunity has been created all over to consider our estate plans and discuss them with our families. All individuals of our nation, not just the elderly or those suffering from health issues, should take the time to think and draft a systematic plan of division of their estate/properties as it will make life simpler for remaining family members if the proper steps are taken now.

What about the Financial Security of the Family if Someone were to die from COVID-19?

A will can make that happen.

As the coronavirus pandemic progresses and life continues to seesaw wildly, humans will continue to become more and more uncomfortable and unpredictable. Coronavirus presents a more imminent threat—one that can’t be swept under the rug, so people in India may be more amenable to taking action than they normally would. During these worrying and uncertain times, making a Will is one way to take control and give yourself peace of mind that your wishes are properly recorded should the worst happen. 

Mental illness, suicides rise in India during Covid-19 crisis. Suicide was the leading cause for over 300 “non-corona virus deaths” reported in India due to distress triggered by the nationwide lockdown. The group, comprising public interest technologist Thejesh GN, activist Kanika Sharma and assistant professor of legal practice at Jindal Global School of Law Aman, said 338 deaths have occurred from March 19 till May 2 and they are related to lockdown. According to the data, 80 people killed themselves due to loneliness and fear of being tested positive for the virus. The suicides are followed by migrants dying in accidents on their way back home (51), deaths associated with withdrawal. Other causes of the “non-corona virus deaths” were exhaustion (24), including workers travelling long distances on foot or queuing for ration, police atrocity/state violence (11), lockdown-related crimes (12), including vigilantism for violating rules, and denial of medical care (38).

Generally speaking, a Will is a legal document that coordinates the distribution of your assets after death and can appoint guardians for minor children amidst such uncertainty arising due to such deadly pandemics.

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When there is no Will

Without a will, the state in which you reside decides how to distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to its laws. This is known as dying intestate, and the resulting settlement process may not produce the results that you would prefer for your survivors. You can prevent this from happening by having a Will drafted that reflect your wishes.

Contents of the Will

A will generally includes:

  • Designation of an executor, who carries out the provisions of the will.
  • Beneficiaries—those who are inheriting the assets.
  • Instructions for how and when the beneficiaries will receive the assets.
  • Guardians for any minor children.

Why naming Beneficiaries is important?

If proper beneficiaries are not named, then for assets that move outside the will and probate process, if the named beneficiary conflicts with anything stated in the will, then the named beneficiary prevails. This means the named beneficiary will receive the asset, rather than anyone else named in the will, and usually the asset will not have to go through probate.

Rules of Intestate Succession for Hindu Males

Section 8 in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956

  1. General rules of succession in the case of males—the property of a male Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the provisions of this Chapter—

(a) Firstly, upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class I of the Schedule;

(b) Secondly, if there is no heir of class I, then upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class II of the Schedule;

(c) Thirdly, if there is no heir of any of the two classes, then upon the agnates of the deceased; and

(d) lastly, if there is no agnate, then upon the cognates of the deceased.

Following Properties of Hindu Male is/are covered/attracted under Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956

As the Section makes it clear that the property of a Hindu who dies intestate, his property to be divided among the persons shown therein;

  1. Self-acquired property of a deceased Hindu.
  2. Property of a deceased Hindu, who died before 2005 without leaving coparceners son/s (as on today).
  3. Property of a deceased Hindu, who died after 09th September 2005 without leaving coparceners son/s and daughters/s (as on today.)
  4. Property of a deceased Hindu, succeeded by him from his collaterals.
  5. Property of a Hindu male came to him other than from his father.

Section 8 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 applies to

  1. Self acquired property of a Hindu male.
  2. Female property to be reverted to husbands heirs.
  3. Property succeeded from separated father is absolute property
  4. Property came to Hindu male under gift.
  5. Property came to Hindu male from collaterals in his absolute property.
  6. A sole surviving Hindu gets share in partition will hold the property absolutely.
  7. Property succeeded under section 8 will be absolute property of the successor.

Heirs which are mentioned in Class I

Son; daughter; widow; mother; son of a pre-deceased son; daughter of a pre-deceased son; son of a pre-deceased daughter; daughter of a pre-deceased daughter; widow of a pre-deceased son; son of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son; daughter of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son; widow of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son; son of a pre-deceased daughter of a pre-deceased daughter; daughter of a pre-deceased daughter of a pre-deceased daughter; daughter of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased daughter; daughter of a pre-deceased daughter of a pre-deceased son.”

Importance of Making a will amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Chronic worries don’t give you any power over uncontrollable events such as a job loss; it robs you of present day fun and saps your vitality.

Economies around the world are now suffering similar symptoms as millions are being laid off because of Covid-19. This is going to be a global unemployment pandemic; further compounding these alarming statistics is the pace at which many unexpectedly find themselves without jobs—either laid off with some sort of termination payout, asked to take indefinite unpaid leave or fired outright. For those who have unexpectedly lost their jobs, this is, of course, a financial challenge, but it also poses a psychological challenge. How do you treat those emotions when you lose your job? Such situations create insecurity and uncertainty amongst people and thus the best time for estate planning by writing a Will.

The best time to bequeath assets

If you have acquired assets in your name, then you must have a Will to ensure that your possessions go to the right hands in case of an eventuality. As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, it is the right time people should turn their minds to estate planning and setting their affairs in order – having an up to date Will is the keystone to good estate planning.  This is not morbid, it eases people’s minds and stress levels.  It creates certainty and control in an uncertain world.

“If there be any truer measure of a man than by what he does, it must be by what he gives” – Robert South.


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