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Online Wills Vs Seeking Lawyer’s Advice: Chong Yue-En

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Closet songwriter that uses music to influence, Yue-En’s interest resonates with his style as a lawyer - creative, personable, and straightforward. Unlike countries such as Australia, Singapore doesn’t have many lawyers that focus solely on estate planning (that is not just for the rich) and Chong Yue-En, managing director at Bethel Chambers LLC, is one of the rare ones. We spoke to Yue-En to understand why some lawyers would rather not write wills for clients and the benefits of going to a lawyer for estate planning advice.

Name: Chong Yue-En

Company: Bethel Chambers LLC

Estate Planning Specialization: Mental Capacity

Base Country: Singapore

Service Style: Creative, Straightforward, Personable

Something interesting: Closet song writer

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Q: Can you tell me more about yourself? Why did you decide to go to law school?

Chong: I actually didn’t want to go to law school. My childhood ambition was to be a newspaper reporter. I love human interest stories.

When I was six, I remembered reading the newspaper and seeing a feature on socially disadvantaged family. A week later, there was an update that said, “Thank you for $100,000 fund raised for the family”. I was like “Wow, I want to be a newspaper reporter, I can save the world”.

But I didn’t make it to journalism school. I randomly applied to law school and got in.

Q: You graduated from law school and ended up focusing on will drafting, mental capacity and the likes. Why? I’ve had a lawyer who told me that he would avoid doing wills for clients if he can because there’s a huge liability and you don’t make much. With so many online wills out there, why should people go to a lawyer?

Chong: Lawyers are at the short end of the stick when it comes to will drafting because we have a high standard that we need to adhere to. If something goes wrong, we will be responsible and liable. We get sued and will lose our license. Our whole career will be at stake.

As lawyers, we are always getting ourselves up-to-date with the most recent contested wills and trusts cases in Singapore and around the world. As such, when lawyers draft wills, we draft it in the most litigation-proof way possible.

We don’t want to be sued. We don’t want to be witnesses on the witness stand. We think of every single possibility that could go wrong. We question anything suspicious when it comes to getting instructions from the testator (the person making the will). We have legal ethics and the court have given us many guidelines that we have to follow.

Justification Fatigue

It is precisely because of the above that some lawyers don’t want to do wills for clients. These days, there is a lot of confusion in the market on the pricing of wills. You see banks offering free wills templates. You see people offering $99 wills.

Too many people come to lawyers demanding to know why lawyers are ‘so expensive’. We are quite tired of having to constantly justify our prices and existence, so the path of least resistance is to not do the wills work. There is just too much liability, for too little appreciation and a lack of understanding.

For clarity, those wills templates that are sold for under a $100, it is framed as a suggested template. You are responsible if anything goes wrong.

The Guiding Hand

That said, the reason why I still do wills work is because I know the importance of properly guiding a person through the process of thinking about how he/she wishes to plan their legacies.

When a person comes into my office, I will be questioning what the person wants and see whether it is legal. For example, the person says he wants to will his share of the apartment to his child. Then I will ask in what manner does he hold the apartment. Is it joint tenancy or tenancy-in-common?

If he says joint tenancy, then I will tell him he can’t will the apartment to his child because the other person in the joint tenancy will take over the whole apartment when he passes away because of the rule of survivorship.

This is just one of the many questions that I would ask, after which, I would present to them options on how they wish to ensure that their wishes are upheld.

Q: The other thing that you do is the Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”)? I understand that I can submit a LPA myself. Why do I need to go to a lawyer?

(Context: LPA allows you to appoint people to make decisions on your behalf if you lose mental capacity, ie, can’t make decisions for yourself. LPA form 1 is a standard template and has to be certified by either a doctor, a psychiatrist or a lawyer. LPA form 2 allows for customization but must be drafted by a lawyer. See more here.)

Chong: The value of lawyers in guiding you through a LPA is that as litigation lawyers, we are aware of the pitfalls and dangers that a LPA donee (the person you pick to make decisions for you) would face, having fought to protect the donees and the decisions that they made from others who might wish to sue them and to get them revoked as LPA donees.

We are aware of the different scenarios that are happening and what the consequences are. The question isn’t so much about the LPA form itself, but what happens if your family members start disputing the powers given to the people on the LPA.

That’s when you look for a lawyer to help you think through if LPA form 1 is sufficient for your purposes. If you have any questions in this regard, the doctors and psychiatrists aren’t going to be able to advise you on the law and what happens in court.

Q: What about LPA form 2? Can you give me an example of when it’s used?

Chong: Take business continuity planning for example. If you are a sole proprietor or a small business owner, you may need the business to feed your family but may not want to appoint your partner to manage the business. Using a LPA form 2, you can appoint someone else to manage your business affairs, in case you lose mental capacity.

Q: How much does an LPA 2 costs?

Chong: The lawyer’s hourly rate.

Q: Is there a benchmark? Are we looking at $50,000 range or a few hundred dollars range?

Chong: I would imagine that if it goes up to even $10,000, you probably need a team of lawyers because your LPA is so complex. It’s more likely in the range of about $2,000-$4,000.

Q: Let’s move on to international assets and in the context of Singapore, concurrent wills, another of your specialty. What’s so special about it compared to a normal will?

Chong: Concurrent wills involve preparing a separate will for each country that you have assets in and have it written in a way that fits the local system.

For example, if your domicile is in England, English law applies to you and that includes your apartment in Singapore. If you have an English will, you take up the court proceedings in England and then have it resealed in Singapore.

Resealing is the process of having Singapore’s High Court recognize the foreign grant of probate (The person executing a will have to get a grant of probate before being able to legally distribute a deceased’s asset).

Need for Concurrent Wills

If you have had a Singapore will instead, theoretically, you can just proceed with a standard grant of probate application in the Singapore Family Justice Court. This saves time and money.

However, there are problems when there are forced heirship rules in foreign countries as well as laws that extend beyond the deceased’s country into other countries where the deceased has assets.

As such, for concurrent wills, there is a need to engage two lawyers, a lawyer in your home country that can advise on estate and tax law that your home country would impose on foreign assets as well as a lawyer like myself in Singapore.

Q: What’s interesting about you?

Chong: In my free time, I like to write songs.

Q: A lawyer that write songs? Why?

Chong: I find that writing songs allows me to get in touch with my inner self. To express myself on issues that I really feel for. Writing songs is also about self-reflecting. My dream is to encourage people around me to live more self-reflective lives, to be leaving in peace with one another and to have much joy, so that the world can be a much better place.

Q: What kind of songs do you write?

Chong: Mainly Christian songs. But really for my own enjoyment. I don’t publish the songs.

Q: What’s the purpose of your music? To inspire?

Chong: Music allows for a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection. Music has a way of going straight to the soul and words in the music stays with you. It allows you to go on a journey with the songwriter. When you go on that journey, you don’t just see things the songwriter wants you to see, but also things beyond that as well. That’s the life that music brings to people.

Q: Can you write a song about estate planning? Write about mental capacity and estate planning. Make all these seemingly boring topics interesting?

Chong: I think that is a great idea! Songs can convey ideas and meanings in a gentler way. Let’s see what I get inspired to write!

This interview has been edited for length.


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