I was just a few years into my own practice when I prepared my mother’s will. Of course, I thought it was an easy enough task – in relative terms, estate planning services are one of the lowest charge items, and I had been working in law for many years in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Vietnam – but nothing prepared me for the difficulties I faced when my mother suddenly passed away.
On top of the rollercoaster emotions I was feeling, I had to deal with inheritance tax issues, stamp duty and legal fees. In the UK, I was scrambling to source a large sum of money to pay inheritance tax while trying to factor in the high exchange rate. In Malaysia, I didn’t know where my mother’s belongings were or even where she stored her paperwork. Because we didn’t go into full estate planning services, to this day, we are still discovering some of her assets.
So how did I deal with the situation?
Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have a strong network of people to assist me through that challenging period, advising me on ways to save money and time throughout the process. But it was still an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Since my mother passed, I have felt compelled to prevent others from going through the same thing. I want to make sure my clients have access to full estate planning services. And because I asked half of Kuala Lumpur how best to solve my predicament, I learnt a great deal about the best ways to close all those legal loopholes – and now I have the whole of Kuala Lumpur AND Penang drawing on my knowledge because they know what I went through.
Having gone through the process myself and with my clients, what would be my advice for using estate planning services?
Well, I believe it is incredibly important to have a will in place. But I also strongly believe an experienced advisor is necessary to guide people through the process. It’s their job to help you determine your intentions and wishes in accordance with your financial status. They legalise those wishes in a legal document, and provide advice on inheritance tax, asset protection and estate execution. And you can save your family heartache down the road by looking into estate planning services before it is too late.
Personally, I believe the most important thing I’ve learned is organisation. It’s not enough just to have a will. Does your executor know what you have and where you owe money? Do you know where your paperwork is? Where are the beneficiaries?
I returned to Malaysia in 1992, and I now live and work in Penang. Under Malaysian law, if an estate is left intestate, the Malaysian government will distribute the assets. That includes home, personal property, investments, and bank accounts. And of course, jumping through these kinds of legal hoops can be emotionally draining for those left behind. That’s why it’s incredibly important to have a will in place. With the right estate planning services, I passionately believe that many families can avoid additional heartache or pain.
Author: Sam Choong
Sam Choong is a lawyer practising in Malaysia. His areas of practice include estate planning, wills and UK inheritance tax for expats residing or seeking to retire in Malaysia.