Should immigrants have a will?

US IMMIGRATION NOTES - Atty Marco F.G. Tomakin - The Freeman

This week I had a meeting with a couple who has long been living in New York but have still maintained close ties in the Philippines. In fact, as soon as they became naturalized American citizens, they immediately applied for reacquisition of their Filipino citizenship. Since then, they were able to buy and acquire various real estate properties in Cebu, hoping that someday they would be able to come back and enjoy their retirement years living comfortably in one of their beachfront homes.

The couple's primary concern was to ensure that all their properties both in the US and in the Philippines are to be distributed among their five children according to the couple's wishes. They have already pre-identified which properties go to which child, but since they do not have a will or a trust set up, they felt that it is very important and urgent to have one. I told them that identifying the need to put their affairs in order is a wise thing to do and that they should talk to an estate attorney who specializes in assisting individuals and families on estate planning, drafting, creating, and implementing legal documents such as wills and trusts, healthcare directives, living wills, among others. A good estate attorney also helps clients maneuver around the thorny issues of taxes, probate, and even cases filed against your estate.

In the case of our couple, it is more important that they should have an estate attorney helping them put their intentions in writing as in a will. Since they have already expressed their desire how their assets are to be inherited, the last thing they want is to leave it to the State of New York to determine how their estate is to be divided. Also, since they have assets in the Philippines, they are subject to legal and tax consequence under Philippine laws. It is wise that they also have to talk to a Philippine lawyer as well.

Now you would ask: What if I do not have very many assets, should I still have to make a will? Yes, of course. Having a will does not only apply to the affluent nor does the size of your properties or how much money you have in your bank. A will is also a form of a written instruction to your heirs of whatever intentions you may have and since it is written, it ensures that these intentions are faithfully carried out with no room for ambiguity.

I get that some people are not comfortable of talking about having a will because it is directly connected to death. But I have seen a growing number of immigrants, at least from friends and clients that I know, who have seen the value of having one for practical and utilitarian purposes. Having one is one of the smartest decisions an immigrant can make.

* * *

I share in the collective grief that The FREEMAN family is feeling at this time with the passing of this paper's former editor-in-chief and publisher, Mr. Jerry Tundag. I met him several years ago in his office and I was struck by his simplicity, kindness, wit, and sense of humor. He was very welcoming and treated me like we had been long-time friends. I have always admired his style of writing not only in the choice of words but also the feeling that you get after reading his columns --it always felt like he was right there in front of you in person. After those few minutes of talking with him, I was very impressed not only by his intelligence and very astute sense of current affairs, but also of the kind of a person that he was --a man of content and character.

To his bereaved family, my sincerest condolences. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

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