Estate Administration Process: Wills, Probate & Letters of Administration

Estate Administration Process: Wills, Probate & Letters of Administration

Introduction to the Estate Administration Process

When a loved one has departed, leaving behind property, such property (known as “the deceased’s estate”) must be administered and distributed according to the law.

If the deceased made a will, the deceased (testator) would normally appoint at least one person as the executor to manage their estate in accordance with their last wishes, initiating the estate administration process.

However, if the deceased did not make a will, the court will appoint at least one person to be an administrator of the deceased’s estate, normally the deceased’s spouse or next-of-kin. In this case, the estate administration process must be initiated without a will.

If one intends to manage the deceased’s estate, he or she must apply for a Grant of Probate (if Will is available) or Letters of Administration (if Will is unavailable) in order to be legally recognized as the executor (if Will is available) or administrator (if Will is unavailable) of the deceased’s estate. This is an essential step in the estate administration process, ensuring that the management and distribution of assets are carried out lawfully and in accordance with estate planning & administration norms.

The Estate Administration Process

When A Valid Will Is Available: Grant of Probate

A Grant of probate is applicable only when the deceased left a valid will. The Grant of Probate is a document that gives power to the executor(s) to administer and distribute the deceased’s last wishes.

An executor is a person appointed by the deceased to manage the deceased’s estate. The executor shall apply to the court for a Grant of Probate in order to administer and distribute the deceased’s assets to the beneficiaries, following the requirements of estate administration. The deceased may appoint more than one executor in the case of one being unfit to perform their duties (deceased, medically unwell, etc.) and also keep one another in check.

In the situation where no executor(s) was named in the Will, the court will appoint a suitable person to manage the deceased’s estate, and the Grant extracted in this situation is called the ‘Grant of Letters of Administration with the Will annexed’ instead of the Grant of Probate. This step ensures that the estate administration process proceeds smoothly, even when there is no named executor in the Will.

Can You Renounce the Right to Apply for the Grant of Probate?

If the appointed executor(s) refuses to handle the deceased’s estate, the executor(s) can renounce their right to apply for the Grant of Probate. During the hearing of the Grant of Probate application, the executor or their legal representative can renounce the said right by notifying the court. Then, the court will appoint another suitable person and be given the ‘Grant of Letters of Administration with the Will annexed’. This ensures that the estate administration process can continue with a new person appointed to handle the deceased’s estate.

Where do you apply for Grant of Probate?

It depends on the total value of the deceased’s estate:

  1. Less than $50,000 – Public Trustee Office
  2. Below $3 million – State Court
  3. More than $3 million – High Court.

Estate Administration Process: Executor’s Duties

Duties of an executor will depend on the contents of the Will, but it mainly includes the duties as follows:

Obtaining Probate: Apply for probate from the court. This involves submitting the original will, along with the necessary supporting documents, to the court for validation. The executor must also file an application and pay the required fees.

Administering the Estate: Once probate is granted, the executor is responsible for managing and administering the deceased person’s estate. This includes identifying, gathering, and safeguarding the assets of the estate. (The executor may need to open a separate bank account in the name of the estate to handle financial transactions.) This is a crucial part of estate administration.

Paying Debts and Expenses: Settle any outstanding debts, taxes, and expenses of the deceased person. This includes notifying creditors, paying funeral expenses, outstanding bills, and any taxes owed. The executor should also keep accurate records of all payments made on behalf of the estate, as a part of proper estate planning & administration.

Distributing Assets: Distribute the assets outlined in the will. This involves identifying the beneficiaries and ensuring that their entitlements are fulfilled. The executor should keep proper records of all distributions made to beneficiaries during the deceased estate administration process.

Accounting and Reporting: Maintain accurate accounts of all financial transactions and dealings related to the estate by keeping records of income received, expenses paid, and distributions made. The executor may be required to provide periodic accounting and financial reports to the court or beneficiaries as a part of estate administration.

Acting in the Best Interest of the Estate and Beneficiaries: The executor has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the estate and the beneficiaries. This involves exercising reasonable care, diligence, and prudence in managing the estate while avoiding any conflicts of interest and making decisions that are fair and impartial, following the guidelines of probate & administration act.

Keeping Beneficiaries Informed: Keep the beneficiaries informed about the progress of the estate administration process. This includes providing regular updates, responding to their queries, and addressing any concerns they may have.

It’s important to note that the role of an executor can be complex and time-consuming. If an executor feels overwhelmed or requires assistance, they can seek professional advice from a lawyer or engage a professional executor or estate administrator to help with the administration process. A trustee has the power to hold, invest, or use any money for the minor beneficiaries’ benefits (minor is a person under 21 years old).

Contentious Grant of Probate: Contesting A Will

During the estate administration process, the family of the deceased may contest the Will if they feel it does not properly reflect the deceased’s final wishes. They can challenge the Will’s validity in court based on several grounds:

Non-Compliance with Formalities

A will can be declared invalid if it fails to comply with certain formalities. These include:

  • The Will must be in writing
  • The Testator must have been at least 21 years old when the Will was created
  • The Testator should sign at the bottom of the Will

Additionally, at least two witnesses must witness the Testator’s signature and sign the Will in the Testator’s presence. Beneficiaries or spouses cannot be the main witnesses to avoid conflict of interest. These requirements are part of the estate planning & administration process.

Due to the complexities involved, hiring a professional, like a lawyer, to assist with the process can prevent these issues during estate administration.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity (Mental State of the Deceased)

The Testator, when making the Will, must have:

  • A sound mind free from illnesses that could affect their ability to make a Will
  • A sound memory to remember their possessions
  • A clear understanding of who their belongings are being bequeathed to

These conditions need to be met to ensure a robust estate administration process.

Undue Influence

Undue influence, coercion, threats, harassment, or persistent persuasion can impact the validity of a Will.
It’s advisable for vulnerable individuals, particularly the elderly, to make a Will with a lawyer privately, without the presence of beneficiaries. This can prevent allegations of undue influence.

Fraudulent Will

Fraud may occur if a Testator is tricked into signing a Will that they believed to be another document. Wills bearing different signatures from the same Testator can also indicate fraud. In these cases, handwriting experts will be brought in to examine the signatures.

Failure to provide for deceased’s dependents

If a Will favors outsiders over immediate family, the court will review the Testator’s rationale and may vary portions of it. The dependents can pursue this course of action during the estate administration process. The dependent could be the spouse of the deceased, a disabled son or daughter, or an infant son.

The Inheritance (Family Provision) Act of Singapore governs such situations and is a key part of any deceased estate administration.

No Valid Will Available: Letters Of Administration

In the event the deceased didn’t leave a valid Will, the court issues a grant called the ‘Letter of Administration‘. This is part of the estate administration process when the deceased dies intestate, meaning without a valid Will. In such cases, the distribution of the deceased’s estate must comply with relevant laws.

For non-Muslim individuals in Singapore, the distribution of the estate follows laws stipulated by the Probate and Administration Act and the Intestate Succession Act (ISA).

On the other hand, the estate of a Muslim individual in Singapore is governed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act and Syariah law.

These regulations guide the estate administration ensuring a just distribution of assets according to the deceased’s religious or legal compliance when no valid Will is available.

Who can be the administrator?

The appointment of an administrator forms a crucial part of the estate administration process. Selection determines who will manage the organisation, distribution, and settlement of the deceased’s assets according to certain legal proceedings and priorities.

For non-Muslims in this context, the appointment follows the order established by the Intestate Succession Act (ISA). The ISA outlines seven classes of individuals who can apply for the Letters of Administration. Here’s the sequence of these classes as per the estate administration norms:

  1. The spouse
  2. The deceased’s children
  3. The parents
  4. Brothers and sisters
  5. Nephews and nieces
  6. Grandparents
  7. Uncles and aunts

In the case of Muslims, the individual who holds the most shares in the deceased’s estate as per the Inheritance Certificate obtained from the Syariah Court is selected as the administrator. The Inheritance Certificate must be acquired before the application of the Letters of Administration, and these documents play key roles in the estate planning & administration process.

If a person has the legal right and priority to apply for the Letters of Administration, they can choose to renounce their role by filing a renunciation and consent form. This is a measure built within the estate administration functionalities to ensure that only willing and capable people serve these roles.

Should a beneficiary of the deceased estate administration be a minor (below 21 years old), at least two administrators must be appointed. It’s essential to note that those lacking capacity, such as bankrupt individuals or minors, are not eligible to serve as administrators.


In conclusion, maneuvering through the estate administration process is a significant responsibility when a loved one passes away. Their estate needs to be effectively managed and lawfully distributed. If the deceased has left a valid will, the executor named in the will obtains a Grant of Probate, thereby getting the authority to execute the deceased’s last wishes.
However, in the absence of a will, an administrator is appointed by the court who must apply for Letters of Administration. This is a critical aspect of non-testamentary estate administration to manage the estate.

The executor or administrator carries out various duties. These range from obtaining probate, managing the estate, settling debts and expenses, distributing assets, and informing the beneficiaries about the estate planning & administration processes.

Also, there are provisions for contesting a will under specific grounds, like non-compliance with legal formalities or cases of undue influence. It’s essential to note when processing the deceased estate administration that the rules distinctly differ for non-Muslims and Muslims in Singapore. This ensures that the law respects the deceased’s religious and communal identities while managing and distributing their estate.

Glossary and Key Terms

Testator: A person who has made a will or given a legacy.

Minor: A person below 21 years old

Bankruptcy: Bankruptcy is a legal proceeding initiated when a person or business is unable to repay outstanding debts or obligations. It offers a fresh start for people who can no longer afford to pay their bills.

Fiduciary: Involving trust, especially with regard to the relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do you need a lawyer when applying for the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration?

A: Due to the complicated process, where there are many forms to be filed, it is advisable to hire a lawyer.

Q: What is the expected time taken to extract the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration?

A: For those who engage a lawyer to handle the application, it will be ready in about 4-6 weeks after the lawyer has filed all the necessary documents.


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