When a person passes on, the tasks of managing the assets that the person leave behind can be daunting on the family especially in a time of grief. You can ease your family’s tasks by making a will – a document that gives clear appointment of whom you want to manage such matters for you and clear instructions on how you want your assets to be distributed.
If you passed on without a will or your will fails to address the distribution of any property that you own, all your properties that are not covered by your will fall into intestacy and are distributed according to the intestacy rules as set out in the Intestate Succession Act. These rules stipulate how intestate property is to be divided and which of your family members or relatives have the priority claim.
In Singapore, intestacy rules only apply to non-Muslims. Where the deceased is Muslim, a different set of rules apply, under the Administration of Muslim Law Act. Specifically, the deceased Muslim’s estate will be distributed in accordance with faraidh, Muslim inheritance law. Faraidh applies regardless of whether the deceased has made a will.
Legal terminology – what is intestacy?
Legalese in this area of law may be particularly confusing, so it may be worthwhile to clarify certain commonly-used words and phrases, before delving deeper into intestacy rules:
- Estate: all of a person’s property, both real (land) and personal.
- Will: a legal document which a person uses to specify how his estate is to be managed and distributed after his death.
- Probate: the process of administering a person’s estate after the person’s death according to the instructions in the person’s will. This often includes proving in court the validity of a will, collecting the deceased’s assets, liquidating liabilities, paying taxes, and distributing property.
- Intestacy: the situation where the management and distribution of part or whole of a person’s estate has not been provided for in a will.
- Letters of Administration: the court order appointing a volunteer person as the administrator of the estate of a deceased person who died without a will.
Intestacy rules – Who gets the assets?
When do intestacy rules apply?
Intestacy rules apply where a deceased’s property is not covered by his will, and the deceased was domiciled in Singapore at the time of his death. Even where the deceased was not domiciled in Singapore at the time of his death, Singapore’s intestacy rules still apply to the distribution of his immovable property, for example, his house.
What are the intestacy rules?
The intestacy rules are simple. Essentially, the estate will be divided up amongst the deceased’s family members, the proportion of which depends on (1) how the beneficiary is related to the deceased, and (2) how many beneficiaries there are.
Family members include parents, spouses, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. However, children must be legitimate children, and includes children who have been legally adopted. Any property that is not distributed to family members will by default belong to the government.
The Intestate Succession Act addresses various scenarios of beneficiaries, and stipulates the distribution of the property for each. To determine how the property is to be distributed, first identify the beneficiaries, then the stipulated distribution.
|Only spouse||Spouse is entitled to the whole of the estate.|
|Only parents||Parents are entitled to the whole of the estate, to be divided equally between them.|
|Spouse and children||Spouse is entitled to half of the estate.
The other half is distributed equally amongst the children.
|Spouse and parents||Spouse is entitled to half of the estate.
The other half is distributed equally between the parents.
|Only brothers and/or sisters||Brothers and sisters are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them. If any brother or sister is deceased then the children of any deceased brother or sister shall be entitled to such share accordingly.|
|Only grandparents||Grandparents are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.|
|Only uncles and/or aunts||Grandparents are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.|
|All above scenarios do not apply||Government is entitled to the estate.|
I’m happy for the law to give everything to my spouse and children when I die. Is there any value in writing a will to give the same effect?
Even though you intend for entitlements to the estate to be the same as the law would determine, not writing a will could give rise to inconveniences, problems or greater costs to your family. Firstly, if you die leaving young children, your spouse must get another person to join her as a co-administrator over your estate and share the responsibilities of administering your estate. Secondly, both your spouse and the co-administrator will be required to provide surety in the sum equivalent to the total value of your estate. That is, they themselves or a willing third party with assets worth the same or more must commit themselves to repay any misappropriated party of the estate.
How do I prevent my property from falling into intestacy?
It may be important to you to prevent your property from falling into intestacy, where you have no control over who acquires the property. There are several ways to do so.
#1 Draft a will
First, make sure to draft a will. All of your property that is provided for in your will is unlikely to fall into intestacy. However, wills can easily provide for property that you currently own. When it comes to future property, you may have to take some additional steps. This can be done either preemptively or in the future after the property is acquired.
#2 Insert a residuary clause
It is recommended that you insert a residuary clause in your will. This clause serves as a “catch all” for any property that is not covered by your will. Should you leave out any property in your will, acquire further property after making the will, or should a gift under your will fail for any reason, the property will be distributed according to such a residuary clause in your will rather than fall into intestacy.
#3 Supplement your will with a codicil
A codicil is an extra document that serves as an “add-on” to an existing will. For example, if you wish to add a recently purchased property to your will which was made before the purchase, it is possible to “add” your instructions on this property to your existing will. However, a codicil is usually suitable where your will is complex and costly to amend. In most instances, executing a new will with the necessary additions or amendments is more practical. Firstly, a single document makes for better management than the combination of a number of documents. Secondly, a codicil that contradicts any part of the original will complicates matters. Lastly, executing a codicil may cost the same or more than the original will.
Need legal advice for wills, probates and trust?
If you need legal advice for wills, probates and trust, you can request a quote with Lie Chin-chin. Alternatively, you can get a Quick Consult with other lawyers where you can check out in minutes and for a transparent, flat fee, the lawyers will call you back on the phone within 1-2 days to answer your questions and give you legal advice.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.