The Puri siblings are in a distraught state. Every day their telephonic conversation, across two countries, stretch beyond an hour. Most time is spent discussing various bank accounts and insurance claims. Their father died following post-covid complications in April, leaving little time to explain details about his wealth. Things haven’t been easy, as in the absence of a will every document requires signature of all three of them, besides their mother. That the eldest works in Dubai has only complicated matters further.
“I wish my father had prepared a will,” says Delhi-based teacher Cheenu Puri, 34. Cheenu, the middle child, who lives in the same city as her mother, has been struggling to get paperwork around bank accounts and insurance policies in order. Even though her father kept all his original documents in a bag, the assets and accounts aren’t collated in a file. “It’s still unclear where all he invested his money,” she says.
Like many people her age, she’s a novice in the legalities around claims and transfers. There have been times her father wanted to tell his children details about his assets but none of them were interested. They now regret not listening to their father.
Many Indian families fail to draw up a will and avoid discussion around family wealth. Even when the will is in place, parents are uncomfortable talking about it. Young adults, often busy with careers and social life, rarely bother checking on their parents’ assets. But the pandemic has left millennials in an unfamiliar world, managing grief and unaccounted assets.
According to Dipika Jaikishan, co-founder and chief operating officer of Basis, a financial services platform for women, the pandemic has put a focus on the unpreparedness of youngsters. “They are not sure how to start the process of claims. For financial planning, there’s always been a dependency on parents or on male counterparts in case of women,” she says. Small wonder then the platform has seen a 981% increase in users in the age-group of 24 to 39 since March last year.
It’s this generation that EasyInherit, a Bengaluru-based inheritance management start-up, plans to attract. It was borne out of Sejal Sheth and her co-founder’s traumatic experience around documentation of parental wealth. “I lost my dad in 2016 and I still have 30% assets to be claimed. Having been through that process, I realised that if you keep it organised, you are making life simpler for the next of kin. In India, documentation and notary are a nightmare,” she says.
Covid-19 forced Sheth to expedite the process of launching the firm, which started operations in October. The platform handles everything around planning a will, putting together a trust, succession plans, claims, settlements and so on.
Taking stock of the finances of a deceased parent can be an onerous task. Delhi’s Anubhav Goel learnt it the hard way. A chartered accountant, Goel is involved in chalking out succession plans for conglomerates. But at home nothing around the same was ever discussed. When his father-in-law died in May, the family was clueless about his wealth. “He was an advocate and yet never prepared a will. Since my wife has no siblings, there’s no contention. But what’s the point of saving if you aren’t going to make it easy for the next of kin to inherit,” Goel, 37, asks.
Scanning through his father-in-law’s emails, he tracked down every mutual fund, stocks and insurance plan. That none of the bank accounts had a nominee in place is another hurdle. “Now we have to present a court order before we can get access to his accounts,” he says.
Goel reached out to Gurleen Kaur Tikku, founder of financial advisory firm Hareepatti, to walk him through the maze of undocumented assets. Tikku has a long list of bereaved millennials, who reached out to her in the past two months for guidance. Sensing it as a need of the hour, she had put up a social media post, offering her services pro-bono for anyone who was stuck in documentation. “Every day, I receive 14-15 calls and emails, mostly from young people, who seek help,” Tikku says.
It’s a taboo to talk about will, says Goel, who has a sibling, “as though one is eyeing the property. My father rebuked me away when I checked about it with him last year.” But things changed after his father witnessed his struggles around getting the assets of his wife’s family inventoried. “Recently, dad asked me how he can get his will registered,” he says.
For Ajmer resident Aabshar David, who lost her father when she was 23, the teachings on finances had to be picked up overnight.
“Mom was dependent on dad, just as me and my younger brother. We weren’t even aware of simple things like how everything needs to be transferred to my mom’s name. For me, a bank, till then was restricted to my debit card,” says David, who lost her father two years ago.
Unlike David, Sumbul Khan, knew where her father had parked his savings. A professional musician, her father allowed her to keep track of his finances. Yet when he died of a heart failure in December, Khan was not prepared for the paperwork that awaited the family. They had to take care of bills and two bank loans. The lockdown had hit the family hard, savings had diluted and no will was in place.
Khan, 22, became the undeclared custodian of her younger brother and homemaker mom. Two months ago, the Faridabad resident started a fundraising on Milaap for ₹5 lakh to meet their expenses and has managed to raise 80% of the amount.
Tikku rues how it has taken a pandemic to change attitudes towards financial literacy and legalities. “My small piece of advice to everyone is create emergency funds, consolidate documents of every asset in one file, and involve children in family’s finances,” she says.
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