No act of giving is too small
Meena and I were married in 1984, and chose not to have children for our own reasons. Mine were that India needed fewer children and not more!
We are a Double Income No Kid family and had always thought that after us, we would leave our savings and assets largely to a charity; assuming that increasing longevity and decreasing interest rates would allow us to leave anything behind at all! In any case, our will is largely drawn along those lines.
Around this time, I came across the Living My Promise initiative by Girish. The initiative was trying to enlist ordinary people who were willing to leave at least half their wealth for charity. Their objective resonated with us.
While we often associate giving with Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Azim Premji or Shiv Nadar, and such others, there is no reason why giving should not become a a part of the value systems of ordinary professionals, who have created some wealth, howsoever modest, beyond their lifetime requirements. And so, we signed up with Living my Promise, which is more a sharing of a genuine intent to give than an actual act of giving immediately to charity or other social causes.
But the intent to give is the easy part. Even the writing of a will is hardly a challenge. Any practising lawyer can help draft a will for a fee. The real challenge is in the execution of wills, especially for those who may have no children, or whose children, nephews and nieces — living overseas with lives of their own — may not have the time or the inclination to spend time executing a complex will of old and deceased relatives.
The challenges in executing a will in the circumstances, especially in our country, are many. Most of our friends or relatives whom we can entrust the execution of our wills to, may be our own age. Even if they are 10-15 years younger, they are bound to be fairly ageing themselves. Younger family may be busy with their own commitments.
Can the execution of the will be entrusted to a law firm? In India, few lawyers or even wealth managers offer such a service. The system hasn’t been too friendly either. We do not even have a good market for reverse-mortgages. Our bureaucracy is complex. Even shifting a bank account of a deceased is an uphill task, even for the bona fide survivors. But these things are nowhere in the horizon.
A challenge on another front is to whom to give? Today’s institutions/NGOs even if they are extremely well-governed now, may not be around or equally functioning two decades from now.
India needs to generate as much wealth as it can from such givers and needs to create a conducive environment for giving. May be creating a well-governed division of SBI or LIC (not that these are my idea of paragons of efficiency) for the execution of wills could undertake the challenge?
V Raghunathan is an academic, corporate executive, author and columnist, and a #LivingMyPromise signatory
The views expressed are personal