Where there’s Covid, there’s a Will: The wealthy start detailing bequests

Economic Times | By Maulik Vyas & Kala Vijayaraghavan | 1st April 2020

India’s rich have started detailing bequests, worried about mortality & wealth erosion.

Mumbai: Extreme events concentrate minds, including, or perhaps especially, those of the wealthy, who have to decide on bequests. As the Covid crisis unfolds, legal firms are seeing a sharp rise in consultation on writing wills and estate planning. It’s not just intimations of mortality. The economic and market meltdown caused by the pandemic is also pushing the wealthy to make sure that those they want to take care of do not suffer.

Several lawyers and industrialists ET spoke to said worries of business losses and stock-market volatility have both led to many more wealthy Indians writing their wills as well as revisiting earlier plans after Covid-related wealth erosion. Some people who spoke to ET for this story did so on the condition of anonymity.

Currently, India has about 108 publicly-listed family-owned business, third highest in the world, only after China (167) and the US (121). According to industry estimates, 97% of family businesses in India don’t have family constitutions or succession planning documents.

“As family shareholders we are revisiting our papers to include such uncertain developments like this disease to assess risks better. We were not prepared for this kind of impact on our family investments” said the promoter of a Mumbai-based consumer goods company. A promoter of a new FMCG startup said there’s now “an urgent need to be well prepared with a documented and updated family will”.

“We have received several requests in the last few days from people requesting draft of wills so that they can execute it,” says Rajesh Narain Gupta, managing partner of law firm SNG Partners. “Fear of inevitable is compelling many to plan the succession, which preferably should be done in good times when there is enough time to plan it.”

“Will-writing is not people’s priority in our society and it is very much considered a taboo just like life insurance policy was some two decades ago, but the unprecedented situation has changed this for people for sure,” said Jatin Popat, founder of WillJini, an online will writing company. WillJini has witnessed a surge in queries over the last two weeks, says Popat. Other online will-writing companies like EzeeWill and Lawfarm are also seeing a demand spike.