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Dear Thelma,

My husband and I are in our 60s. Recently my husband was diagnosed with a slight decrease in brain size. Hopefully he will not have Alzheimer’s. But I am worried that he will need a lot of care, finances and attention later on.

Whenever I approach him on the subject of death, he gets upset. He does not have a will and I think it’s very Chinese thinking that to make a will is taboo or a bad omen – I’m surprised at this because he’s well educated.

He would yell at me if I even mentioned someone else to make him think about this matter, as if I am being wicked. He also refuses to talk about planning for old age, like what to do if one of us needs elderly care. I like to plan ahead but he is not cooperating.

On finances, he rarely supports me except to put a roof over my head. I had to fight to get him to pay for anything. We are both middle class folks. Our children are grown up but I don’t think we should put our burdens on the children. Please tell me what to do.

Rosemary C

Dear Rosemary,

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. Let me make a broad statement first to support you, and then we’ll look at how we can help you move forward.

Making a will is an act of love. When we die intestate, without making a will, our loved ones have to engage lawyers and go to court to get Letters of Administration before they can access bank accounts, EPF, deal with assets like cars and homes and even small things like who inherits our favourite watch.

Getting this paperwork done can take months if it’s not too complicated, but it can easily take several years. It’s stressful, complicated, and can cost a lot of money. Having had to do this myself, I can’t urge this enough: do not burden your loved ones. Write a will.

So, you want to be sensible but your husband is baulking. Generally speaking, people refuse to make wills because they don’t know how to go about it, fear it’s too expensive, don’t know what they want to do, or because they don’t want to consider their own death.

From your description, your husband has a history of being difficult about money. He’s also using rage to prevent honest, open communication. I am curious what you like about him as he does not sound like a good partner. However, you’ve only asked for advice on one issue, not your relationship.

I suggest that you start by planning your own estate.

First, note down all your assets and what you want to do with them. You will need a will, a document that’s opened after your death. Imagine this happening a week or two after. You’ll need to appoint someone to be your executor, so that needs to be someone who can cope with red tape.

You also need another document that discusses what you want to do in the event of your becoming ill or incapacitated. That second document should be shared immediately with the person you trust to take care of this for you.

Don’t leave it too late. For example, if you want to donate your organs, that has to be done within a few hours. If nobody knows until weeks after the funeral, it’s too late. Also, it’s sensible to talk about what may happen early, just so your wishes are clear.

Your family lawyer can help you with this, and it’s typically very affordable. Estate planning becomes expensive only if have lots of property or complicated trusts.

Once you have written your own will, approach your husband. Tell him exactly what it cost you and how you did it. Wills are sealed, but you might want to hand him a photocopy. That should help take the mystery and fear out of it.

If his assets aren’t too complicated, ask your lawyer for a standardised will. For example, you may choose to leave each other everything, and then once your partner passes, everything is divided equally among your children. That makes it all very simple, and you just fill in names.

Also, as he has a history of not talking to you about money, I suggest you ask a friend he trusts to speak to him. For some people, being reminded that your assets and property may be frittered away in legal fees is enough to motivate.

Should your husband remain determined to burden you, talk to your lawyer. She ought to be able to advise you about your particular circumstances. This will hopefully take away some of the uncertainty.

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