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What to do when a loved one passes away in Singapore

Probate Lawyers and Inheritance Laws in Singapore – 8 Important Things To Do When A Loved One Dies

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The death of a loved one is an emotional and difficult event. But even while grieving, several things must be done after a loved one’s passing, including the engagement of a probate lawyer to take care of probate.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the legal matters you need to do when a family member dies in Singapore.

When a death in the family occurs, there are 8 important things you need to do, from reporting the death to managing the estate and inheritance.

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1.  Find a Funeral Director

Engage a funeral director to help arrange the type of funeral service you need.

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 2.  Obtain the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD)

If the death was natural and occurred at home, you will have to get a doctor to certify the cause of death. The doctor issues the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD). This allows you to apply for a death certificate and to carry out the funeral arrangements. If the cause of death was unknown or unnatural, the doctor will not issue the CCOD yet, and will instead refer the matter to the police.

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3. Register the Death

If death occurred at a hospital, you can register the death there and obtain the Death Certificate. If it occurred at home, you could register at ICA or any police post. All deaths in Singapore (regardless of citizenship) must be registered within 24 hours.

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4. Arrange for the Funeral

Discuss with the family members on how the funeral should be conducted. Check if the deceased left instructions in the will. Most people will engage a funeral director to help with such arrangements. Your funeral director will find out which Town Council you belong to and get the permit from your Town Council if you wish to hold the funeral at a HDB void deck.

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5.   Check if the person left a Will

You will need to check whether the deceased person left a will behind.

If the person left a will,  the person named as the Executor would have to apply for a ‘Grant of Probate’ and become the executor of the deceased’s estate.

If the person did not leave behind a will, the closest family member(s) would have to apply for ‘Letters of Administration’ and become the Administrator of the deceased’s estate.

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6.  Apply for Grant of Probate or Letter of Administration

Once you have ascertained if the deceased has a will, you would need to engage a specialist probate lawyer to help you get probate.  Probate is essential if the deceased has left behind assets to be distributed to beneficiaries.

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a.   What is Probate?

When a family member dies, somebody has to deal with their “estate”. In simple terms, a person’s estate is the assets owned by the person. These assets have to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Assets can be made up of the money, property, and possessions they had at the time of their death.

To deal with his or her estate or assets in Singapore, you must apply for a Grant of Probate (if there was a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there was no Will). To do this, you would need the assistance of a specialist probate lawyer.

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b.   If the Loved One Dies Leaving Behind a Will – Apply for a Grant of Probate

When a loved one dies, you will first have to check whether the person has left a will.

If there is a will, there will be a person named as an executor in the will. The executor is someone named in the deceased’s will as a nominated person to distribute the deceased’s estate.

If the deceased left a will, the executor(s) will have to apply for a Grant of Probate and distribute the deceased’s assets according to the will.

With the executor having obtained the Grant of Probate, the executor will be able to approach financial institutions, government agencies, banks and other organisations to request access to the deceased’s assets.

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c.   Documents to Bring when your Executor Sees a Probate Lawyer to Apply for a Grant of Probate

Before meeting with the probate lawyer, the executor should prepare and bring along:

  • the original death certificate of the deceased
  • the original will of the deceased
  • the executor’s identification documents (e.g. NRIC or passport)
  • a list of all the assets and liabilities owned by the deceased with supporting documents (e.g. bank statements, insurance policies, tax invoices etc.)
  • Muslim Inheritance Certificate from the Syariah Court (if applicable)

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d.  The Process of Applying for a Grant of Probate

The executor named in the will has to apply to the court for a Grant of Probate. The executor will instruct a specialist probate lawyer to help him do this job.

If the deceased’s estate is valued at $5,000,000 and below, the executor will apply for the Grant of Probate to the Family Courts,

However, if the deceased’s estate’s total value exceeds $5,000,000, the executor will have to apply to the Family Division of the High Court.

It is not simple to apply for a Grant of Probate as the steps involved many documents and are very technical.  Generally, there are 3 main stages in the application for a Grant of Probate.  Your probate lawyer will do the following:

  • Applying for a Grant of Probate
  • Submission of the supporting documents
  • Extracting the Grant of Probate

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e.   Understanding the Duties of the Executor

The executor is required by law to perform the following duties:

  • Apply for and extract the Grant of Probate.
  • Arrange for the funeral of the deceased according to the will.
  • Gather an accurate list of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Pay off the deceased’s outstanding taxes, loans and debts.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the will.

The executor must act honestly. According to the law, he has to account for the distribution of the deceased’s estate and may be held liable for not fulfilling their duties.

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7.  Apply for a Grant of Letter of Administration (if there is no Will)

If the deceased did not leave a will, the deceased’s family member(s) must apply for a ‘Letters of Administration’ to become an ‘administrator’ of the estate.

According to the Intestate Succession Act, the Letters of Administration gives the administrator(s) legal authority to manage and distribute the deceased’s assets. With the Letters of Administration, the administrator(s) will be able to approach various institutions and request access to the deceased’s assets.

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a.   Who can be an Administrator

Under the Intestate Succession Act, the administrator is appointed by the court to manage and distribute a deceased person’s estate.

Generally, any of the deceased’s immediate family members may apply for the Letters of Administration.

According to the Intestate Succession Act, the following people are entitled to apply for the Letters of Administration, in order of priority:

  • spouse
  • children
  • parents
  • brothers and sisters
  • nephews and nieces
  • grandparents
  • uncles and aunts

Based on the order of priority, if the deceased’s children wish to be the administrator(s), the deceased’s surviving spouse must renounce their right to apply for Letters of Administration.

There can be a maximum of 4 administrators for the same estate.

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b.   Documents to Bring when Family Members see a Probate Lawyer

Before meeting with the lawyer, the administrator or the family members should prepare and bring along:

  • the original death certificate of the deceased
  • the original death certificate of the deceased’s next-of-kin (if applicable)
  • the family members’ identification documents (e.g. NRIC or passport)
  • a list of all the assets and liabilities owned by the deceased with supporting documents (e.g. bank statements, insurance policies, tax invoices etc.)
  • Muslim Inheritance Certificate from Syariah Court (if applicable)

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c.  The Process of Applying for Letters of Administration

It is not simple to apply for Letters of Administration as there are many steps involved, and the process is very technical.

In general, your probate lawyer will help to apply for Letters of Administration by doing the following:

  • Applying Letters of Administration
  • Submission of the supporting documents
  • Extracting the Grant

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d.  Understanding the Duties of the Administrator

The Administrator should carry out the following duties:

  • Make an accurate list of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Pay off the deceased’s outstanding taxes, loans and debts.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the Intestate Succession Act.

The Administrator must act honestly and has to account for the distribution of the deceased’s estate and may be held liable for not fulfilling their duties.

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e.  .Rules of Distribution

For non-Muslims, the distribution of the estate will be according to the Intestate Succession Act.  The Act states:

  • who the eligible beneficiaries are
  • the proportion of the estate that each beneficiary will receive.

If there was no will, the Intestate Succession Act states that the estate shall be distributed as follows:

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Surviving BeneficiariesDistribution
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.
Only childrenChildren are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them. If any of the children is deceased, the grandchildren can claim their parent’s share accordingly.
Spouse and parentsSpouse 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 grandparentsGrandparents are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.
Only uncles and/or auntsUncles and aunts are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.
All above scenarios do not applyGovernment is entitled to the estate.

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8.  After Probate or Letter of Administration is Obtained – Manage the Estate and Distribute the Inheritance

Once the Grant of Probate or Letter of Administration has been obtained, the executor has to access the assets, collect them, pay off debts, and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.  Some of the things the executor might have to do to complete the job include:

  • Properties:  Sell or transfer the properties.
  • Banks:  Pay bank loans, credit cards and get access to deceased’s accounts.
  • Vehicles:  Settle the vehicle ownership.
  • Bills:  Settle all bills and taxes.
  • Debts: Settle all debts.
  • Insurance:  Claim insurance monies.
  • Subscriptions:  Close all accounts and cancel subscriptions.
  • Utilities:  Terminate or transfer PUB, telephone and all utility services.
  • Distribution:  Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.

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About PKWA Probate Lawyers 

PKWA Law is one of Singapore’s largest family law firms, and we specialise in Wills, Probate and Estate Law.  PKWA Law was recently recognised as a leading family law and inheritance law firm by the Straits Times in the “Singapore’s Best Law Firms 2021” survey.

Whether it is preparing a simple Will or helping you obtain Probate, PKWA Family Lawyers are expertly placed to assist and make the process quick and affordable for you.

Our probate fees are as follows:

Grant of Probate:   $1,200

Letter of Administration:   $1,500

Letter of Administration, Grant of Probate Lawyers - PKWA Law

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