While creating wealth is an important aspect of financial planning, deciding what happens to the accumulated assets after death is equally vital. The smoothest way to transact this is by leaving behind a will, which is a legally enforced document, to make sure the right person, or persons, get their respective shares after you are gone.
There are other benefits of making a will also like, custody of children, pets and designating a guardian to protect the legatees from unnecessary court proceedings. All this makes one wonder how people managed their estates in the past?
Further, if you want to bypass the complex and legal process involved in probate, a living trust can ensure easier transfer of the assets of the trust creator, through a trustee, who is given the responsibility of managing the settlor’s assets for the benefit of the eventual beneficiary.
Historical requirements of a will
Though the process was different from what it looks like today, research has shown that the history of making legal documents to transfer possession existed first in the Greek and Roman eras before being used in the UK and finally in America.
The ancient Greek practice concerning wills, however, came with certain conditions which were different in different places. While some states permitted the transfer of estates, others deprived citizens of the same privilege.
Athens only allowed male citizens of 20 years and above to benefit from a will. Male heirs used to automatically inherit the property without a will when the head of the family died. Apart from the ancestral property, the senior-most heir also inherited the duties and the debt liabilities.
If the heir declined or preferred to abstain, assuming the debts were high, the offer was passed to the next heir in line. If all refused the entire inheritance went to the state, whose liability was limited to the value of the property only.
In the case of daughters, it was different. Only a designated male legatee could inherit the belongings, provided he agreed to marry one of the daughters.
Early human history evidence suggests that estate planning and wills existed all over the world in some form or the other. Religious texts like the Bible and Quran have outlined the process of inheritance laws in their scriptures.
Will has been spoken about in Genesis 48:1-22 of the Old Testament, wherein it is mentioned that the patriarch Jacob bequeathed his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh a part of his inheritance which was double to that of his son Joseph.
The Bible did not discriminate between brothers and sisters either. Job 42:15 ” And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers”.
Property wealth and distribution are widely mentioned in the Quran and the jurisprudence of the verses to create a living trust that complies with the Islamic Laws is followed even today. These laws can be found in chapter 2 Al-Baqarah, chapter 4, Al-Nisa, and verses 106-108 in chapter 5 which pertains to rules governing the signing of witnesses.
The legatees receive the money as entitled by the Quran and not by the wishes of the property owner. Even donations for a charitable cause require the consent of all the legal heirs after the individual’s death.
Development of wills over time
The first modern legalization which was recognized for making wills was introduced in 1837 in the United Kingdom by an Act of Parliament. Similar legalization soon followed in Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and many other countries although the requirements differed from country to country.
A will, although a document of the past, is written in the present, to speak for the testator in the future. Family structure and a host of legal issues involved may have significantly altered the process of creating a Last Will and Testament, but the basics remain unaltered over the centuries.
Despite the wills made in the past showing exemplary drafting experience, they were burdened with patrimony legacies. The biggest difference being restricting the inheritance to only men, which fortunately has been done away with today.
Another notable change was that early inheritance rules did not cite or have a rule in place for disinheriting an heir either for misconduct, divorce, estrangement, or any other reason. Thankfully, modern-day estate planning has made it simple by including a process to disinherit a person from the will rather easily.
In spite of technological changes, the concept of the electronic signing of estate planning documents has not met the legal requirements to probate a will and still is considered to be a pen, ink, and two witnesses physical affair.
Nevertheless, because of the pandemic, a new era has dawned in electronic execution and remote witnessing of documents by audio-visual links. This has resulted in legal practitioners around the world beginning formal acceptance of “electronic wills”.
Thanks to procedural development and an increase in technology, creating a Last Will and Testament has become much easier than in the past, despite the rise in the complexities of lifestyles of humans. This newfound simplicity offers a great chance for anyone wishing to safeguard their legacy in the interest of family protection right away.
Those who embrace and adapt to technology in will making, including electronic wills, will hold the competitive advantage and will lead the future.