The passing away of a family member can be heartbreaking and overwhelming. The loved one may leave behind property or estate and a situation may arise when the deceased has not left behind a Will. In such a scenario, the estate of the deceased is administered and distributed to the beneficiaries according to Singapore’s intestacy laws which are governed by the Intestate Succession Act 1967 for non-muslims and by Muslims Law for Muslims.
Need for Letters of Administration
If the deceased passed away without leaving a Will, one has to apply to the Family Courts or the Family Division of the High Court for a Grant of Letters of Administration to administer and distribute the loved one’s estate. Thus, Letters of Administration is a legal document that permits one to administer and distribute the estate, essentially making such a person an administrator of the deceased’s estate.
Application for a Grant of Letters of Administration is also required when a deceased has left behind a Will but there has been a failure on the part of the executor in the following circumstances:
1) No executor has been appointed by the Will.
2) The appointed executors are legally incapable of acting as such.
3) The appointed executors have renounced their right to act.
4) Such an executor has passed away before the deceased.
5) The appointed executor, before obtaining probate or administering all the deceased’s estate, has passed away.
6) Such an executor has not appeared and extracted probate.
The priority of the administrator is to pay the debts, liabilities, taxes, funeral expenses, and other such expenses of the deceased while administering the estate of the deceased. The balance of the estate that is left after paying all such liabilities must be distributed to the beneficiaries according to the applicable laws.
Can You be an Administrator?
The Probate and Administration Act 1934 states that Letters of Administration may be granted to the deceased’s spouse, next-of-kin, or any of them individually or jointly. On the other hand, the Intestate Succession Act 1967 sets out the priority in which the people related to the deceased are entitled to a Grant. The priority in descending order is:
5) Nephews and Nieces
7) Uncle and Aunts
A person below the age of 21 years or a person of unsound mind is not allowed to be an administrator. In the case where a person below 21 years is entitled to such Grant, his or her guardian will obtain such a Grant. In the case where a person of unsound mind is entitled to such a Grant, the legally entrusted person to look after the affairs of the mentally unsound person will obtain such a Grant.
Number of Administrators to be Appointed
Up to 4 administrators may be appointed by the Court. In a case where one or more beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate are under the age of 21 years, at least 2 administrators or a trust corporation is to be appointed. Multiple administrators have to act unanimously while administering the estate.
Procedure for Obtaining Letters of Administration
A) Step 1: Preparation of the Required Documents
For an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration, the following documents will need to be filed.
i) Application for Letters of Administration – This is a LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau Form available under the “Probate” tab of the e-Litigation website. The Service Bureau will generate an Originating Summons and Statement for Administration after the information has been provided in the form.
ii) Schedule of Assets – All of the deceased’s domestic and overseas assets will have to be listed in this form along with any outstanding debts secured in Singapore by a mortgage. One will have to write to financial institutions to obtain all information about these assets if they are not aware of the full extent of such.
iii) Renunciation of Beneficiaries with Prior Right Form – If anyone has the eligibility to apply for a Grant does not wish to do so, they will need to fill out and sign this form indicating that they wish to give up that right.
iv) Certified True Copy of the Death Certificate of the deceased.
v) Certified True Copy of the Death Certificate of next-of-kin (if applicable).
vi) Certified True Copy of the Divorce certificate of the deceased (if applicable).
vii) Certified True Copy of Foreign Grant (if applicable).
viii) Certified True Copy of Inheritance Certificate (if applicable).
B) Step 2: Caveat and Probate Application Search
The documents, after preparation, must be brought to the Service Bureau. Over there, one will need to search if there are any existing caveats or probate applications on the deceased’s estate or if there is an existing claim to the right to administer the deceased’s estate. After the search, a full and summary report of the search has to be attached to the application for a Grant of Letters of Administration.
C) Step 3: Submitting the Application for a Grant
After the documents mentioned above have been prepared including the full and summary report of the caveat and probate application search, all the documents need to be submitted at the Service Bureau. They will prepare the following documents after submission.
i) Originating Summons
iii) Schedule of Assets
Any reason, if the application has been submitted after 6 months of the death of the deceased, must be given. In case of an error in the application, the Court might reject the application and will state the reasons for doing so. The documents will then need to be re-filed after error correction. Once the application is approved, one can go back to the Service Bureau and collect the approved documents.
D) Step 4: Filing of Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath
These two documents must be filed within 14 days of the filing of the application for a Grant of Letters of Administration. The Supporting Affidavit should indicate that the details of the application are correct. The Administration Oath is an undertaking for faithful administration of the deceased’s estate. A Commissioner for Oaths will need to affirm both documents.
E) Step 5: Preparing Schedule of Assets
Generally, the Schedule of Assets is to be filed with the Supporting Affidavit but the person filing it may not know the full extent of assets of the deceased. One would need to write to all the financial institutions to get information about such assets. Most of these institutions require a certified true copy of the court-approved Originating Summons to provide such information and it might take weeks or months to hear from them. In such a case, the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath should be filed before the deadline. After hearing back from the financial institutions, the Schedule of Assets can be filed together with a Supplementary Affidavit that also needs to be affirmed by a Commissioner for Oaths. After this, the Court should approve a Grant and make an order-in-terms and send a request for the extraction of the Grant.
F) Step 6: Extract the Grant
After the issuance of a Grant of Letters of Administration, one can make an application to extract the grant using the Request to Extract Grant Form available on the e-Litigation website. One last caveat and probate application search have to be conducted and the results will need to be filed together in the application to extract the Grant. After the Grant has been extracted, one will obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration giving the authorization to manage the deceased’s estate.
Renouncing the Right to Apply for a Grant
One can renounce their right to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration if entitled, by saying so orally at the hearing for a Grant of Letters of Administration or by submitting a written Affidavit attested by a lawyer or a Commissioner for Oaths.
In the Case of a Deceased who was Muslim
If a deceased who was Muslim passed away without leaving a Will, the Syariah Law and the Administration of Muslim Law Act would be applicable. According to the Inheritance Certificate, the person who has the highest share in the deceased’s estate would be the appropriate person to administer the estate and file an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration. This Inheritance Certificate can be obtained from a Syariah Court before applying for the Grant.
Few Cases Concerning a Grant of Letters of Administration
1) Ong Wui Swoon v Ong Wui Teck  SGHC 216
In this case, the father of the plaintiff and the defendant died intestate. The defendant was permitted to act as the administrator of their father’s property after obtaining a Grant of Letters of Administration by the Court. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant did not provide an accurate account of their father’s assets. The Court after going through all the evidence concluded that the defendant did fail to properly act as an administrator of the estate and ordered that any amount due to the plaintiff from the sale of the deceased’s estate should be paid by the defendant.
2) Lim Lina v Estate of Quick Cheng Gee, deceased  SGHC 267
In this case, the wife and the mother of the deceased became joint administrators of the deceased’s estate after obtaining a Grant of Letters of Administration. They opened an Estate Account for the proceeds from the deceased’s estates. Proceeds from three insurance policies were deposited in this account and the wife of the deceased claimed that they did not form part of the deceased’s estate and were solely for her benefit. The Court, after going through the facts, concluded that the proceeds from the three insurance policies had the name of wife written as the beneficiary and it did not fall under the deceased’s estate. The mother of the deceased could not act as an administrator for the proceeds from the insurance policies under the extracted Grant of Letters of Administration.
3) Khor Liang Ing Grace (executor of the estate of Tan See Wee, deceased) v Nie Jianmin  SGHC 202
In this case, the defendant lodged a caveat based on a loan she had made to the deceased. The plaintiff asked for the removal of the caveat and was the administrator of the deceased’s estate. The Court referred to section 33 of PBA which stated that a Grant of Letters of Administration or Grant of Probate shall not be made until a notice has been sent to the caveator and the caveator has been allowed to contest the right of any plaintiff to such a Grant. The Court concluded that the defendant did not contest the right to a Grant but wanted to recover the loan amount, so lodging a caveat was not the right procedure for such. After thorough consideration of all the facts, the defendant’s claim was dismissed.