By Younas Chaudhary
In a landmark case, a Canadian court ruled in 2019 that four sisters who looked after their aging South Asian parents in British Columbia, Canada, could get equal shares from their parents’ estate. Before their death, the parents had willed almost 93 per cent of their $9 million dollar estate to their two sons, leaving the daughters with just 1.75 per cent of the estate each!
The four sisters helped their aging parents before death and toiled on their family farm, but the parents disproportionately favored the sons, a customary practice in South Asian countries. The sisters contested their parents’ will in the Canadian court citing outdated traditional discriminatory practices favoring sons over daughters and won, receiving equal shares as the sons.
“One of the reasons that they wanted to pursue the claim was not just out of self-interest, but so other South Asian women in the same position would also have the courage to do so,” their lawyer, Trever Todd, told CBC News.
Growing up in Pakistan, I have seen first-hand how women were discriminated against by parents in their wills. For example, I closely know a family where there were five sons and four daughters, and based on the local traditions, the father in his will, allocated two shares to his sons and one share to his daughters. His favorite son got the most fertile land and home, while the daughters got the least valuable land. After the father’s death, the children started fighting over the property and the daughters immediately sold off all their land at cheap prices to the neighbors.
Many Asian Americans do not write a will or have any plan for their estate. Some think that they are immortal while others lean heavily favoring sons over daughters. Every family has an inheritance story involving children squabbling over what was left by parents who favored one over the other.
Everyone should have a will. You need not be rich or poor to have a will. If you own anything and you want to pass that on to the next generation, a will is necessary. Contrary to common belief, most estates must go through the probate court process, with or without a will. Having a will speeds up this process and instructs the court how you want your estate handled. When you die without a will, the court will apply the state or provincial law in deciding on how to divide your estate without your input, which can cause long unnecessary delays.
I did my will 30 years ago with the help of an estate planning attorney and an accountant. They understand tax laws and legal loopholes so that when the client’s wealth is moved and transferred to the next generation, they will not face a lengthy court process or the brunt of state and federal taxes. I regularly revise and update my will every three to five years to ensure all the new tax laws are updated and that the will is equitable.
Writing a will is a painstaking process. The morbid conversation with an estate planning attorney and accountant is intensely personal. You should be prepared to be quite personal, open, and clear to intrusive questions like after you pass who will get the house, this car, your watch, guns, stocks, furniture, rugs, jewelry, larger assets and all your other possessions.
Looking back, I am glad I made my will as I know none of us are immortal. My will gives clarity on how I want my assets to be distributed and operated after my passing and simplifies the distribution and operating process after I am gone.
Today, living without a will puts you in a perilous position because if you do not have one, the state can tax a lot of your wealth after your passing and your children may be left to fend with little.
I came to know a well-educated woman who moved from South Asia after her husband passed away. She sold all her assets and brought over $200,000 in cash and was living independently here. She asked me for investment advice. I told her to keep and save her money, put it into safe investments, and not to give her money to anyone. A few months later, she told me that her son needed money from her to expand his business. I told her bluntly and flatly not to give him any of her money. But she loaned all her money to her son for his business. Fast forward, a few years later, her son did not or could not repay her. She was living with her children in a small room, looking old, unhappy, and tired. She told me quite helplessly with tears in her eyes that she should have listened to me. Bottom line, love your children, but keep your cash handy and in your own control.
It is important to note that you should keep control of your assets and never transfer any of your assets to any of your children or anyone else. Pay attention and do not let anyone else control of any of your assets and property during your lifetime.
Making a will gives you peace of mind and takes away a lot of stress for your loved ones because they will have clarity of distribution of your assets and who will manage the estate. This should lower the chances of future family squabbles over how your wealth was distributed. Another advantage is that with a will you can support your favorite charities and leave a legacy.
A will shows your contributions to the world and gives a glimpse of your legacy. Updating it in a timely fashion it protects the assets in your estate. Above everything, it is your last testament, a story of your life and its accomplishments. Blessings!
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.