In Singapore, when someone passes away but leaves no Will, the law sets out how to administer the estate of the deceased. It also outlines the type of person who can act as administrators of the deceased’s assets and other affairs (like liabilities) under a court order known as Letters of Administration. In contrast, when a person dies and does leave a valid Will, the court will give effect to that Will through an order (grant) known as a Grant of Probate. However, there are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes, an application for Letters of Administration will have to be made, even though there is a valid Will – for example, where the executors appointed in the Will fail to carry out their duties, for whatever reason.
The distribution of so-called intestate estates for non-Muslims (not covered by a valid Will) is done according to the rules set out in the Intestate Succession Act of Singapore. A grant of Letters of Administration is obtained via the process outlined in the Probate and Administration Act. In addition, the Family Justice Courts have also provided a Probate and Administration Toolkit for people who need guidance in order to file an application to become administrators of the intestate estates.
However, these documents and procedures may be too complex and burdensome for the next of kin to follow, when they are under stress and are emotional following the death of a loved one. In this case, an experienced estate lawyer should be contacted, who will be of great help in collecting and verifying documentation, completing forms, and interacting with the court.
What are Letters of Administration?
The Family Justice Courts in Singapore issue a document known as the Grant of Letters of Administration, which authorises persons named in it to act as administrators the estate of the deceased. It is issued where the deceased passed away without writing a Will.
Cases can arise where a valid Will does exist, but the court will grant the Letters of Administration with the Will annexed instead of probate. These cases can occur where:
- No executors were appointed in the Will,
- The executors are not capable of acting, for whatever reason,
- The executors have renounced their rights or did not appear to obtain probate,
- All executors themselves die before the testator who made the Will,
- All executors die prior to obtaining probate, or before they can distribute the estate.
Who Can Become an Administrator of an Estate?
The Probate and Administration Act lists persons who can apply for the Grant of the Letters of Administration and be appointed as administrators of the intestate estate. The law says the court may grant the Letter of Administration to any of the following people: the husband, widow, or next of kin.
Up to 4 administrators may be appointed to act jointly – and in this situation, they must all agree on their actions relating to the estate. If one of the beneficiaries is below the age of 21 years, then the court will appoint no fewer than two administrators. If a beneficiary is an infant, a minor or lacks mental capacity, then their lawful guardian/deputy should step in and make the grant application.
Documents Required to File an Application
In order to begin an application for Grant of Letters of Administration, a number of particular documents must be submitted. These include the death certificate of the deceased, as well as their divorce certificate and next of kin’s death certificate, if applicable. If necessary, a foreign grant must be presented too.
The other forms which are required to be filed are as follows:
- Originating summons for Letters of Administration
- Schedule of Assets
- Administration Oath
- Supporting Affidavit
- Request to Extract the Grant
Occasionally, other forms are needed too. For example, in situations where one of the next of kin who has a prior right over other relations (i.e. a husband or wife will have prior right over the deceased’s children to make the Letters of Administration application) decides to renounce that right, then a form called a Renunciation of the Beneficiaries with the Prior Right must be submitted, together with the usual application.
Applying for Letters of Administration in Singapore
The first step to filing for the Grant of Letter of Administration is to gather the relevant documentation and submitting the application form – this is done via the Crimsonlogic e-Litigation Service Bureau (“Service Bureau”). If the applicant has not engaged a lawyer to do so, then they should file the application along with the Schedule of Assets. Sometimes, if an applicant is unsure about the scope of the deceased’s property, they will need to enquire with financial institutions in order to check whether the deceased’s estate had any assets or liabilities. At this stage, the Renunciation of the Beneficiaries with Prior Rights, if any, is also submitted.
At the application filing stage, an applicant should check the records of the court regarding caveats and other potential encumbrances on the estate. They should attach this report to the originating summons. Following the caveats check, they should submit all of the forms and certified documents at the Service Bureau, once they have paid the applicable fees.
The documents will then be forwarded to the Court by the Service Bureau, and the Court will check the application. If everything is in order, the Court will confirm acceptance and send confirmation to the applicant via SMS message.
The applicant, at this point, should provide the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath – this must be done within 14 days of filing the application. The applicant can affirm these documents in the presence of a Commissioner of Oaths. They then file them with the Service Bureau.
If the Court deems that all the above procedural steps have been fulfilled as required, then it may grant the application without hearing, and give a Registrar’s notice to the applicant. The one remaining step is to receive the Court’s letter relating to the Request to Extract the Grant, which can be obtained upon submission of the relevant form, available through the e-Litigation portal.
Beneficiaries of Intestate Succession in Singapore
There are 9 rules set out in the Intestate Succession Act which cover the distribution of the intestate’s estate. The beneficiaries are set in the following order by law:
- Spouse and children,
- Brothers, sisters, and their children,
- Aunts and uncles
The law states that the siblings (along with their children, grandparents, aunts and uncles) are only entitled to a share of the estate in the absence of any other next of kin who have a higher priority right. If there are no children or parents of the deceased, then the spouse will be entitled to the whole of the estate. Otherwise, the spouse will be entitled to one half of the intestate’s property, and shall share the rest with children – or, if there are none, with the deceased’s parents.
It is important to remember that, under Singapore law, the intestate’s property is only available to the beneficiaries after the Grant of the Letters of Administration. Until that point, the estate technically rests with the Public trustee. Any next of kin wanting to apply for the grant should do so within six months of the intestate’s death – otherwise, they must explain their reasons for delaying.
Once they have obtained the grant, the administrator must cover all of the deceased’s liabilities, such as funeral expenses and unpaid debts, if any. Only after the expenses, costs and liabilities are settled, can the administrator begin distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.
However, there is a different procedure for distributing the intestate property of Muslims in Singapore. In this scenario, the person who holds the highest share in the intestate property (defined by the Inheritance Certificate) will be appointed as the administrator. The Muslim Law Act and the Syariah Law set down the other rules related to Muslim intestacy.
If the deceased has left no will, or the executors have failed to carry out the terms of the Will for whatever reason, then management of the estate of the deceased is carried out by the next of kin with the prior right, acting as administrators. The Grant of the Letters of Administration is a substitute to the Grant of Probate, and fulfils basically the same function – it allows the administrators to gain access to the deceased’s property.
Although the procedure for obtaining the Grant of the Letters of Administration may look relatively straightforward, an experienced estate lawyer can help to simplify the process for you.