Muslim Inheritance Law in Singapore
Muslim intestate law, faraid, is administered by the Syariah Court. The Administration of Muslim Law Act (“AMLA”) provides for the legal principles which is applicable to the distribution of the deceased’s estate. The exact principle to apply depends on the school of faith, or madhab, of the deceased. The deceased must also be part of the Malay community.
Since the majority of Muslims in Singapore follow the Shafi’i madhab, this school of faith is the current default under the AMLA, and will apply unless one adduces sufficient proof that another school of faith should apply.
Faraid applies to all Muslims
Under Section 111(1) of the AMLA, all Muslims domiciled in Singapore who passes away after 1st July 1968 will have their intestate property administered according to faraid principle.
The principle will apply even if the individual has made a will, unless the will in question conforms to faraid principles.
What property would Faraid apply to?
Faraid applies to the estate of the deceased Muslim after applicable deductions from the estate have been made. If civil law and Muslim law contradict as to how a particular property from the estate should be distributed, civil law will generally prevail, excepting when the civil law legislation expressly excludes the application of the legislation to Muslims.
The following categories of property will not be distributed under faraid:
– properties held in joint tenancy and registered under the Land Titles Act. Upon the death of one of the joint owners, civil law will apply and ownership over the property will pass to the surviving joint owners (Shafeeg bin Salim Talib v Fatimah bte Abud);
– nominated CPF monies in favour of others. Where the deceased had made a CPF nomination for the moneys in his or her CPF account, the CPF moneys belong solely to that nominee; and
– life insurance payouts to nominees. Section 73 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act states that life insurance policies of a deceased person do not form part of his estate but will instead belong to the nominees of the policies.
The following deductions will also be made from the estate before it is distributed according to faraid:
– Gifts (also known as hibah) made while the deceased was still alive do not fall under the estate of the deceased.
Gifts that purport to take effect at a set time before the death of the deceased (also known as nuzriah)will still be subjected to faraid.
– Jointly acquired matrimonial property (also known as harta sepencarian), will be divided in accordance with Malay custom as the court deems fit.
The remainder of the property will fall under the estate of the deceased. Malaysian courts have awarded between half to one-third of the harta sepencarian to the wife of the deceased with the remaining belonging to the deceased’s estate.
– Vows (also known as nasr or nazar) that are made to Allah (SAW).
Vows may include vows with penalties, which involve the deceased having vowed to give some property if he performed an act, or vows of gratitude, which involve the deceased having vowed to give some property for occurrence of a specific event. Vows cannot be for an unjust or illegal purpose, as determined by Islamic law, or to do something that is already obligatory under Islamic law.
– Funeral and other related expenses incurred on behalf of the deceased.
– Debts to Allah (SAW), such as monies owed to MUIS for zakat, debts arising from kaffarah and fidyah, and hajj expenses.
– Personal debts.
Subject to any will that the deceased may have, all property remaining after such deductions will fall under the faraid will requirements and must be distributed accordingly.
If the deceased had made a will
The deceased may have drafted a Will (also known as wassiyat) to express how he would like to distribute parts of his estate. According to section 6 of the Wills Act, the will must be in writing and signed by the deceased along with two witnesses.
The will may only distribute up to a third of his estate after the necessary deductions mentioned above, and any distributions beyond that third of his estate is invalid. Further, he cannot will additional benefits or property to anyone who is also a beneficiary under faraid (i.e. spouses and blood relatives), unless all other faraid beneficiaries agree to such an arrangement. This agreement has to taken place after the death of the deceased.
This does not include beneficiaries such as non-Muslims and adopted or illegitimate children, as they do not fall under the established faraid categories. In that regard, the will of the deceased will still be considered to be valid.
As mentioned earlier, in order to circumvent faraid will requirements, some Muslim testators purport to make a gift that take effect at a set time before the death of the deceased. This is known as a testamentary nuzriah, and appears to be not valid under Singapore case law. In that regard, nuzriah gifts will not be recognised as to be distributed and will fall within the deceased estate to be distributed under Faraid.
The distribution of assets under Faraid
The distribution of assets under faraid will depend on the gender of the deceased. Distribution under Faraid typically benefits individuals who are related by blood to the deceased, and the spouse or spouses of the deceased.
Under certain circumstances, a portion of or all of the estate may be left to baitulmal, which is a fund administered by MUIS, such as if a person passes away without an heir or a valid will.
The typical male beneficiaries under faraid are as follows:
– Grandfather (father’s father)
– Uncle (father’s brother)
– Son’s Son
– Consanguine Nephew
– Uncle (father’s consanguine brother)
– Male Cousin
– Consanguine Brother
– Consanguine Male Cousin
– Uterine Brother
– Nephew (Brother’s son)
The typical female beneficiaries under faraid are as follows:
– Mother’s Mother
– Father’s Mother
– Consanguine Sister
– Son’s Daughter
– Uterine Sister
***Note: Consanguine siblings are siblings with the same father but not the same mother, while uterine siblings are siblings with the same mother but not the same father.
Spouses and close family will receive higher shares under faraid, and males will receive twice the share of a female of the same familial relationship.
As distribution of the estate under the rules of faraid could be an extremely complex exercise depending on the surviving beneficiaries, we suggest that estates use the faraid calculator provided by the Syariah Court to estimate the amount to be distributed to each surviving beneficiary.
Alternatively, a detailed distribution table will be provided when the estate applies for an inheritance certificate on the Syariah Court website. A copy of the table is also available at: http://www.amanahraya.com.my/arbwos/References/faraidh/sistem_pembahagian_pusaka_didalam_islam.asp
How We Can Help You
At I.R.B. Law LLP we firmly believe that writing a Will will assist your loved ones after your passing. It also ensures that your wishes are respected after your passing. Our team of experienced Syariah lawyers will also attest that inter-family disputes revolving around inheritance can be avoided by drafting a Will.