When will Someone Need Letters of Administration?

There are two circumstances that may arise after a person has passed away: the deceased has made a will, or the deceased has no will (died intestate).

For the situation where a non-Muslim deceased died intestate, Singapore’s intestacy laws – the Intestate Succession Act (“ISA”) applies. The deceased’s estate shall be administered and distributed according to the ISA.

The deceased has made a will

Normally, in the deceased’s will, an individual is appointed as the ‘executor’. The executor is required to extract the ‘Grant of Probate’ from the Singapore courts in order to distribute the deceased’s estate.

However, there may be situations where the deceased’s next of kin is required to apply for the letters of administration even though the deceased has made a will. These situations are as follows:

  1. There is no executor appointed by the deceased’s will;
  2. The executor appointed by the will does not appear and extract probate.
  3. The executor passed away before the deceased;
  4. The executor passed away before obtaining probate, or before he can administer all the deceased’s estate; or
  5. The executor appointed by the will is legally incapable of acting as such or have renounced his right to act as such.

The deceased died intestate

When a person passed away without a will, their closest next of kin shall become an ‘administrator’. The administration shall obtain the ‘Letters of Administration’ in order to administer the deceased’s estate.

However, even if the deceased has made a will before they passed away, the individual who was appointed as an executor by the deceased may not want to be an executor. This may due to the reason that executor carries a heavy burden in managing and distributing the deceased’s estate. In addition, there are incidents where the deceased did not inform the person who was appointed as an executor. As such, the executor was caught by surprise and this escalates the possibility of the individual to renounce their role as an executor.

Consequently, another person who is the closest next of kin of the deceased is required to apply for the Letters of Administration in order to become an administrator of the deceased’s estate. This is known as applying for the Letters of Administration with the will annexed.

What are the differences between executors and administrators?

It seems that the functions of an administrator and an executor are the same. However, the reality is that there are distinct differences between both. When there is a will, an executor is empowered with the authority to manage the deceased’s estate once the deceased has passed on. Probate of the will is not required.

When there is no will or the deceased died intestate, the deceased’s estate will be managed by the Public Trustee until the administrator has obtained the letters of administration. The deceased’s next of kin are not allowed to manage the deceased’s estate unless they have extracted the letters of administration.

What are the Letters of Administration?

Letters of administration are to be granted by the court. It is a court order appointing the deceased’s next of kin as an administrator. The administrator is then empowered by the letters of administration to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate. The administrator shall distribute the deceased’s estate according to the Singapore Law.

For more details about the administration process, one can refer to the Probate and Administration Act and the Intestate Succession Act.

Who can administer the deceased’s estate if the deceased died intestate?

According to the Intestate Succession Act, there is an order of priority for the deceased’s next of kin to apply for the letters of administration. The list below shows the order of priority of the persons who are entitled to apply for letters of administration:

  1. spouse;
  2. children;
  3. parents;
  4. brothers and sisters;
  5. nephews and nieces;
  6. grandparents; and
  7. uncles and aunts.

If an individual intends to act as an administrator of the deceased’s estate but they are not in the highest priority out of all the classes mentioned above, they are required to obtain a renunciation and a signed consent from the persons who have a higher priority than him or her in the presence of a Commissioner of Oaths.

Important notes for the letters of administration application

It is noteworthy that, infants and bankrupts cannot be appointed as administrators. If the most relevant next of kin of the deceased is an infant, then the letters of administration will be made to the infant’s guardian. However, if the infant is 16 years old, they may nominate their next of kin to act as the administrator.

The court can appoint a maximum of four administrators but any one of the four administrator may appoint for the letters of administration.

At least two administrators must be appointed in the event where there is a minor (age below 21) or life interest (where the deceased intends for their assets to be used during the beneficiary’s lifetime only) involved. Alternatively, a trust corporation may be appointed as an administrator.

This article is intended to give broad guidance on the topic. For further information, and answers to specific questions – please get in touch.

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