Like in many other countries worldwide, the law in Singapore requires estate property to go through a probate process before it can be distributed to the beneficiaries. Contrary to widespread misconception, in most cases, a will is not enough for managing the property of the deceased.
Going through a probate process requires filing necessary documentation and going through several stages before the Singaporean court issues Grant of Probate. Although the process is clearly articulated in the legislation, the help of qualified probate lawyers can be essential in order to comply with all the requirements and ensure that all assets and liabilities are accounted for. As you will find through the level of detail in the article below, it is a complex and time-consuming process to handle on your own.
When do you need a Grant of Probate?
There are a few cases when extracting a court order for a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration can be skipped. These cases are limited to situations when the estate value is less than $50,000, and when it’s not encumbered by liabilities or unpaid debts. However, in practice, the financial institutions are reluctant to release any monetary funds without court orders, even for smaller amounts not exceeding $5,000.
Thus, in most cases, either of the abovementioned court orders is necessary to manage the estate. The Grant of the Letters of Administration is requested if:
- the deceased has left no will, or when the will is lost, or it can’t be found,
- the named executor of the will, who was supposed to manage the distribution of the estate, is not fulfilling this role for some reason.
In other types of cases, when the will is present and the executor is able and willing to manage the distribution of the estate, he or she should file an application for extracting the Grant of Probate with the Family Justice Courts. This court reviews applications where the value of the estate is below $3 million. If the value of deceased assets exceeds the said amount, the application for a Grant of Probate is reviewed by the division of the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Filings for the Grant of Probate
Each stage of the probate process requires preparing and filing a predetermined set of documents in strictly defined forms. These documents include:
- Ex-parte Originating Summons. The Originating Summons are named ex-parte as they include the executor of will as the only applicant. This document comprises details of the deceased as well as information about the applicant and follows Form 48 provided in Appendix A in Family Justice Courts Practice Directions (FJCPD).
- Probate Statement. This Statement follows Form 51 of the FJCPD Directions. It includes, among other points, the confirmation of applicant’s authorities, the estimated value of the estate, as well as submission of the application within six months from the death of the deceased or relevant explanations if this requirement is not met.
- Certified copy of the Death Certificate. In the absence of the Death Certificate, an executor should search for Death Records or Extract through the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
- Certified copy of the Will. The will shall be made in the English language or be accompanied by an English translation thereof with a supporting affidavit.
- Caveats and Application Search. The Originating Summons shall be followed by a record of caveats and the record probate applications, which should indicate if there is any earlier application regarding the same estate or if there are any potential objections to granting of probate.
- Administration Oath. According to the Probate and Administration Act, the person applying for the Grant of Probate has to oblige to the court to distribute the estate according to the Will and to pay outstanding debts of the deceased from the property assets. Such obligation is made in the form of an Administration Oath, compiled according to Form 54 of Appendix A of the FJCPD Directions.
- Supporting Affidavit. The Supporting Affidavit is filed after providing the Administration Oath. It shall be accompanied by the statement, a certified copy of the Death Certificate and the Will, as well as the Schedule of Assets.
- Schedule of Assets. The Schedule of Assets, made as prescribed by FJCPD Directives, lists all assets of the deceased in Singapore and worldwide, including real estate, personal property, other assets as well as outstanding secured debts. In an ideal case, all assets of the estate are known to the executor at the moment of compiling the Schedule of Assets, which greatly expedites the probate process.
- Supplementary Affidavit. In case the exact scope of the estate is unknown, and the executor or the lawyer has to ascertain the existence of assets with the financial institutions, they have to file a Supplementary Affidavit and Schedule of Assets after clarifying all inquiries.
Stages of the Probate Process in Singapore
- Filing an initial application. Filing a probate application is done electronically through eLitigation platform. When executors decide not to involve a lawyer and handle the application process of their own, they have to turn to a Service Bureau, following a separate procedure.
At this stage, the executor or the lawyer provides the Ex-parte Originating Summons, Probate Statement, Certified Copy of the Death Certificate, Certified Copy of Will and Caveats, and Application Search Report, listed in paragraphs a)-e) as above. After the filing, the executor or the lawyer has to provide the original of the Will to the Probate Counter at the Family Justice Courts on the next working day.
- Providing Administration Oath, Supporting Affidavit, and Schedule of Assets. After acceptance of the probate application by the court, the executor or the lawyer has 14 days to sign and file Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath. These documents have to be signed in the presence of a Commissioner for Oath in Singapore. In case the executor is not in Singapore, the signing is done in front of a public notary
- Hearing in Court. The court appoints a date for probate hearing after acceptance of the application and Administration Oath. If the Supporting Affidavit and final Schedule of Assets were received by the Court before this date, the hearing may take place in the absence of the applicant; otherwise, the lawyer or the executor has to be present during the hearing.
- Inquiries to Financial Institutions, filing Supplementary Affidavit, and Schedule of Assets. If the exact scope of the deceased estate is unknown, the executor or the lawyer has to make inquiries to the financial institutions, both in Singapore and abroad. If the inquiries are to be made by the lawyer, the executor shall sign a Letter of Authorization, addressed to each financial institution. After receipt of all answers to the inquiries, the executor or the lawyer should sign a Supplementary Affidavit at the presence of the Commissioner of Oath, together with the final Schedule of Assets.
- Extracting the Grant of Probate. After the court has confirmed that all required documents are filed and the estate is eligible for probate, the executor or the lawyer can request the extraction of the Grant of Probate. Before this is done, the applicant shall submit the final caveat and probate application to ensure that there are no other applications regarding the same estate. The Grant of Probate is sent through the eLitigation platform. There is also an option to request a Paper Grant from the court with the embossed red seal for an additional fee but this option rarely used as the certified copy of the electronic Grant has the same legal effect.
Other Probate Considerations in Singapore
While most executors choose to involve a lawyer to make the probate process most expedient, some may decide to apply to a Grant of Probate on their own. Although handling over the issue to an experienced probate attorney can definitely make the process might easier, the procedure would remain basically the same.
Meanwhile, those executors who want to apply for a Grant of Probate themselves should be aware of various considerations that may arise during the process. One of the examples to consider is when the Singaporean court may have doubts whether the testator understood the contents of the will or if such contents were explained to him or her while signing the will, which might be the case when the document is confirmed by a thumbprint or signed in Chinese.
Finally, when there are any disputes over a probate application or any conflicting interests regarding the estate, the probate application will become contentious. As many of such cases end up in trial, early involvement of the probate lawyer may highly expedite the process.
A probate process in Singapore allows all involved parties, including the testator, executor and beneficiaries rest assured that the property will remain in the right hands. The grant of probate in Singapore is provided only after the Court has all the evidence of the last will, a proof that there are no contradicting claims and caveats against the grant, a comprehensive list of assets, and all the affidavits signed by the respective parties.
Although in some situations extracting the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration in Singapore maybe not required, these scenarios are quite limited and are applicable to lower value estates. In most cases, the Grant of Probate is a prerequisite for the release and distribution of the estate. Turning to an experienced probate attorney in Singapore can help to ensure that all the requirements are met and that the estate is made available for distribution to beneficiaries.