When someone passes away and leaves no will, Singapore law sets out a process for the administration of the estate of the person who passed away (i.e. deceased), outlining persons who can acts as administrators of the deceased assets and other affairs (such as liabilities) under an order (or grant) of court referred to as Letters of Administration. Conversely, when a person passes but has written a will before their death, the court gives effect to the will through an order (or grant) of the court referred to as a Grant of Probate. The foregoing is general propositions and sometimes, an application of Letters of Administration has to be applied instead of probate even if there is a will e.g. where the executors appointed in the will fail to act for various reasons.
The rules related to the distribution of so-called intestate estates for non-Muslims, not covered by the will, are outlined in the Intestate Succession Act of Singapore. The procedure for extracting the Grant of the Letters of Administration is defined by the Probate and Administration Act. The Family Justice Courts have gone even further by providing a Probate and Administration Toolkit for those who are seeking guidance to file an application and become the administrators of the intestate estates.
At the same time, these documents may be too hard to process and file for those next of kin of the deceased who are going through a stressful time following the death of their closest ones. In such a situation, the assistance of an experienced estate lawyer will be invaluable when collecting and checking documentation, filling in the forms, and interacting with the court
What Are the Letters of Administration?
The Grant of Letters of Administration in Singapore is a document issued by the Family Justice Courts, authorizing persons named in the grant to act as administrators of the deceased’s estate. This document is issued where the deceased passed away without writing a will.
There is also a number of cases when there is a will, but the court grants the Letters of Administration with the Will annexed instead of probate. Such cases include situations when:
- there are no executors appointed by will,
- the executors are incapable of acting
- executors renounced their right or did not appear to extract probate,
- all executors die before the testator who made the will,
- all executors die before obtaining probate or before distributing the estate.
Who Can Become an Administrator of an Estate?
The list of persons who can apply for the Grant of the Letters of Administration and be appointed as administrators of the intestate estate is defined in the Probate and Administration Act. According to the law, the court may grant the letter of administration to the husband or widow or next of kin or any of them.
The court may appoint up to 4 administrators who will be acting jointly, in which case they have to agree on all their actions regarding the estate. The court would appoint no less than two administrators for estates where at least one of the beneficiaries is below 21 years of age. If a beneficiary is an infant, minor or mentally incapacitated, his or her lawful guardian/deputy would step in and apply for the grant.
Documents Required to File an Application
The list of documents that must be submitted to initiate an application for Grant of Letters of Administration includes the certificate of death of the deceased as well as his or her divorce certificate and death certificate of next of kin in relevant cases. If applicable, a foreign grant must also be presented.
The list of other forms which must be filed include:
- Originating summons for Letters of Administration,
- Schedule of Assets,
- Supporting Affidavit,
- Administration Oath,
- Request to Extract the Grant.
In case, when one of the next of kin who has a prior right amongst other next of kin (i.e. a spouse has a prior right versus the children of the deceased to apply for letters of administration) decides to renounce the right to apply for the Letters of Administration, a Renunciation of the Beneficiaries with the Prior Right must also be submitted together with the application.
Applying for Letters of Administration in Singapore
The filing for the Grant of Letter of Administration starts from gathering the documents and submitting the application form in the Crimsonlogic elitigation Service Bureau (“Service Bureau”) if no lawyers are assisting the process the application shall be filed together with the Schedule of Assets. In some situations, when applicants are not sure about the scope of the deceased’s property, they should send inquiries to financial institutions to check the existence of the deceased estate’s assets and liabilities. The renunciation of the beneficiaries with prior rights, if any, is also submitted at this stage.
At the stage of filing the application, the applicant should check the court’s records regarding caveats and other possible encumbrances on the estate. The report should be attached to the originating summons. After the caveats check, all forms and certified documents should be submitted at the Service Bureau following the payment of the applicable fees.
The Service Bureau would forward the documents to the Court, which checks the application. If all the documentation is in order, the court would confirm acceptance and sends an SMS to the applicant with a confirmation.
At this stage, the applicant should provide the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath which must be done within 14 days from filing. Applicants affirm these documents before a Commissioner of Oath, after which they file them with the Service Bureau.
If all the above steps are fulfilled as required by the procedure, the court may grants the application without hearing, providing a Registrar’s notice to the applicant. The only step left is to receive the letter from the court related to the Request to Extract the Grant after which it can be obtained upon submission of the relevant form available on the e-Litigation portal.
Beneficiaries of Intestate Succession in Singapore
The Intestate Succession Act includes 9 rules for the distribution of the intestate estates. The law sets the following priority order for beneficiaries.
- spouse and children
- brothers, sisters, and their children,
- uncles and aunts.
According to the law, the siblings and their children, grandparents, as well as uncles and aunts are entitled to a share of the estate only in the absence of the other next of kin with higher priority right. In the absence of children or parents of the deceased, the spouse is entitled to the whole of the estate. In the other case, the spouse is entitled to one half of the intestate property, sharing the rest with the children or, in the absence of children, with parents of the deceased.
It must be remembered that, according to the Singapore law, the intestate property is available to the beneficiaries only after the Grant of the Letters of Administration. Until then, the estate technically comes under the Public Trustee. The next of kin who are willing to apply for the grant shall do so within six months after the death of the intestate; otherwise, they will be required to state reasons for the delay.
After obtaining the grant, the administrator has to cover all the liabilities of the deceased, including funeral expenses and any unpaid debts. It is only after such expenses, costs, and liabilities are paid out, the administrator can further distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, the procedure for distribution of the intestate property of Muslims in Singapore would follow a different track. In this case, a person holding the highest share in the intestate property, as defined by the Inheritance Certificate, is appointed as the administrator. The other rules related to Muslim intestacy are incorporated in the Muslim Law Act and the Syariah Law.
In cases, when the deceased has left no will or when the executors fail to carry out its terms for various reasons, further management of the deceased’s estate is fulfilled by the next of kin with the prior right, acting as administrators. The Grant of the Letters of Administration substitutes the Grant of Probate, fulfilling basically the same function, allowing the administrators to get access to the deceased’s property.
While the procedure for extracting the Grant of the Letters of Administration may look quite straightforward, the assistance of an experienced estate lawyer can simplify the process.