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Settling scores through your will — it doesn’t end well

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I have written a fair number of wills and been involved in a little bit of litigation in my past life. I think I met with all sorts of strange requests, and seen how they can end.

This is a common request I used to receive. There’s usually a long story to do this (but honestly I don’t care). In the end, the person says she is well justified to cut Mr ABC out of his estate. Since it is your estate, you are of course free to do what you want with it. If you want to settle scores, be my guest.

However, as a learned human being, I would discourage using a will for such purposes. When people do things out of spite, they often regret it on further reconsideration.

VFD and another v VFF and others#

Here is a much better reason and a stark warning: In VFD and another v VFF and others [2020] SGFC 10 (a PDF copy is available for personal use only since the link is ephemeral):

  • A family quarrel gets so bad that one sibling sends a lawyer’s letter to her other siblings. After this, the family hardly speaks to each other.
  • In the trenches of family warfare, two siblings find themselves on the same side when they were not close before.
  • One of the siblings realises she is dying of cancer. The Testatrix decides to reward the Beneficiary by giving all she can to them in a will. The Testatrix instructs the Beneficiary not to inform the rest of the family of her impending death.
  • The Beneficiary follows her instructions and effects her wishes in her will. The other family members find out of the death of their sister through third parties.
  • The other family members now claim that the surviving sibling took advantage of the testator. It’s an ugly trial. The court dismissed the other family members’ claim for a lack of evidence. As described by the court, “their conclusions were based not so much on evidence, but on hearsay, opinion, imagination, as well as their own sense of morality and justice over how the estate of the Testatrix should be distributed, to perhaps balance their unwritten “messy family” ledger.”

It’s fascinating how threadbare the case brought by the other family members. This kind of cases aren’t cheap. When litigation is driven by hatred like this, they can’t be mediated or resolved rationally. Hell, I am not even sure this is the last shot.

It doesn’t end well…#

Wills serve several purposes. Financial provision for minors and dependents. Peace of mind for the end of life. It also affects the relationships of the survivors, especially your family members.

I cannot imagine that the Testatrix in VFD planned for her siblings to fight tooth and nail against each other over her will. However, by favoring one sibling over all others, it became a slight or a testament of their failed relationship to the others.

In conclusion, it’s of course your money and you can do what you want with it. However, please spare a thought for the living who have to live through what you wrote in your will.