Some donors to the National University of Singapore (NUS) are planning ahead and are making legacy gifts that will only be realised after their lifetime. They support causes close to their hearts – financial aid for needy and promising students, assistance for critical research, or the recruitment and retention of leading academics – and make a lasting impact.
We interviewed Mr Chandra K Nair Mohan (’76), a lawyer with over 40 years’ experience, to find out more about the intricacies of making a legacy gift in Singapore.
What is a legacy gift?
A legacy gift is essentially a future gift to NUS, which will only be realised after the donor passes away. Gifts can be in the form of immovable assets such as real estate or moveable assets such as cash, furniture, artwork, equities and bonds. You can make a legacy gift through a bequest in your will.
What are the benefits of making a legacy gift? When is a good time to do so?
Every donor has his or her own reasons for wanting to make a legacy gift. Donors may want to continue to contribute to causes they believe in, such as education, after they have passed on. Some want to give back to society for the first time; others may want to attract good karma; or they may simply feel good about doing a charitable deed. Moreover, giving a legacy gift allows the donor to be remembered for his or her good deeds.
A legacy gift often allows the donor the opportunity to make a considerably larger gift than they would have been able to in their lifetime. For example, a donor may wish to bequeath their principal residence as a legacy gift.
A legacy gift can also give you the peace of mind that, after you pass on, your gift will be making a difference.
There is no perfect timing for making a legacy gift and it is really up to personal preference.
What advice would you give to someone planning to set up a legacy gift?
Some donors do things so secretively that it becomes a problem upon that person’s death.
When giving to an institution, it is a good idea for donors to consult the beneficiary to get some general advice and guidance. This is because what donors put in the will could end up being something that the institution cannot fulfil. Or, if the terms of the gift are too vague, the beneficiary may be unable to accept or use the gift.
Can you make a legacy gift yourself or is it best to seek legal advice?
You can make a legacy gift on your own if you are very clear about how to go about it. Although it is possible to save some money by doing that, in general, it is best to seek legal advice. Because if you make a mistake, the danger is that there is very little you can do about it because you will not be around anymore. Sometimes, the beneficiary may even need to go to court for clarification or advice.
At the end of the day, the cost of getting professional advice is quite low, especially when you compare it to the value of most legacy gifts.
Are there any restrictions to legacy giving – for example certain possessions or property that cannot be given as a legacy?
The only restriction is that you cannot give away what is not yours. You must have the legal title to what you wish to give away. For example, money that is being held in trust cannot be given away. If you have a joint tenancy with someone, you cannot give away your home as a legacy without their knowledge because technically, the property will belong to the survivor of the joint tenancy upon your death. However, if you have a tenancy in common and the property is shared equally, then you can give away your share of the property. But you will not be able to give away the entire property. At the end of the day, it is best to consult your partner before making such a gift – perhaps by making a mutual will. Mutual wills are common between husband and wife.
Can I give my HDB as a legacy gift or my CPF monies?
You have to be careful as agencies such as HDB and CPF have very specific rules. It is important to note that CPF money is not part of your estate governed by your will, so you need to fill in the CPF nomination form and name the organisation to which you wish to make your gift.
Under the HDB act, your HDB flat is technically not yours. So, it is best to do some research with the HDB area office before making such a legacy gift.
What are some things to be mindful of when you are preparing a will?
When you are appointing an executor or trustee of the will, it is important to choose someone you trust to administer your estate upon your death. It helps to appoint someone younger and healthier than you are.
Should you decide to make changes or amendments to your will, you can get your lawyer to help you prepare a codicil – an addition that explains, changes, or revokes part of a will –which allows you to make minor changes without a major overhaul of the contents of the will.
Remember that the latest will overrides all previous wills. Wills also have to be changed upon remarriage.
Finally, if you are making a will at an advanced age, it might be a good idea to have a doctor certify your mental health or state.
About Mr Chandra Mohan
Mr Chandra Mohan K Nair has been in legal practice as an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore for more than 40 years. He practises civil and criminal litigation, arbitration, mediation, family and matrimonial, probate, employment, and commercial-related matters.
Currently a Partner of Tan Rajah & Cheah, he joined the firm after graduating with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the University of Singapore in 1976. He was made Partner 3 years after he joined. A former Nominated Member of Parliament of Singapore from 2002 to 2004, Mr Mohan is actively involved in professional bodies, community work and social services. He is also a Commissioner for Oaths and Notary Public, and a Justice of the Peace.