Probate at a Glance

Probate at a Glance

When a loved one passes away, what happens to the assets that they have left behind? How are these assets then distributed to his/her loved ones? Is there a difference if the person passes away with or without a Will? This article aims to answer the above questions.

What is an “estate”?

To start, the “estate” of a deceased consists of all assets held in his/her sole name, such as bank account monies, fixed deposits, investment accounts, insurance policies, immovable properties (e.g. HDB/Condo/Landed), vehicles and personal effects (e.g. watches, bags, jewellery, etc) at the time of his/her passing.

Assets held in joint names do not generally form part of the deceased’s estate as, upon the death of one joint owner, it ordinarily passes to the surviving joint owner(s) automatically. Examples of joint ownership include an HDB held by a husband and wife in joint tenancy and joint bank accounts held by a parent and child.

What is a Grant of Probate? Who can apply for it?

When a person dies testate (i.e. passes away leaving behind a Will), the named executor(s) in the Will can apply for a court order known as a “Grant of Probate” to manage and distribute the estate to the beneficiaries named in the Will, after paying off the deceased’s debts.

If an executor(s) is unable to act (e.g. loses mental capacity, becomes an undischarged bankrupt, dies, becomes incapacitated, etc) the executor will be unable to apply for a Grant of Probate. In such cases, we will need to see if the Will provides for a substitute executor(s).

If no substitute is provided for, your lawyers can assist to apply to the Courts for a Grant of Letters of Administration (with Will annexed).The Court will issue the said Grant to the person(s) deemed “fittest to administer the estate”. The person(s) is usually the deceased’s spouse or next-of-kin.

Procedure to apply for a Grant of Probate

If the deceased’s estate is valued at S$5 million and below, the application for a Grant of Probate can be made to the Family Justice Courts. If the deceased’s estate is valued at S$5 million and above, the said application can be made to the Family Division of the High Court.

A brief summary of the procedure can be found below:

First, the following documents must be filed with the appropriate Court:

  • An Ex Parte Originating Summons;
  • Statement for Probate;
  • Death Certificate (certified true copy);
  • The Will (both the original and the certified true copy); and
  • Caveat and Probate Search.

Next, the Court will require supporting documents to be submitted. These supporting documents include the Administration Oath, Supporting Affidavit and the Schedule of Assets.

Upon the Court’s acceptance of the said supporting documents, the Court will proceed to issue a Grant of Probate to the named executor(s).

Your lawyer can assist you to “extract” (obtain) this Grant of Probate. The Grant of Probate should be extracted before the named executor(s) submit requests to the various financial institutions (e.g. Banks, Central Depository, HDB etc.) to liquidate, manage and/or distribute the deceased’s estate to the named beneficiaries.

What is a Grant of Letters of Administration? Who can apply for it?

When a person dies intestate (i.e. passes away without a Will), the personal representative of the deceased (the “administrator”) can apply for a court order known as a Grant of Letters of Administration in accordance to section 18 of the Probate and Administration Act.

The people who are entitled to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration, in order of priority, are as follows:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Siblings
  5. Nephews and Nieces
  6. Grandparents
  7. Uncles and Aunts

Unlike a Grant of Probate, the administrator(s) has to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act since the deceased did not indicate his/her beneficiaries prior to his/her passing. Where no Will exists, the Intestate Succession Act prescribes how the estate should be distributed to beneficiaries, including who the beneficiaries are and what proportions of the estate they receive.

Before a Grant of Letters of Administration is applied for, proper inquiries must be made as to whether a deceased has left behind a Will. You may first begin your inquiry with the Wills Registry.

Although the Wills Registry does not store a copy of the original will, it allows the deceased’s spouse or next-of-kin to determine if a deceased has left behind a Will. The Wills Registry provides the following information about the Will:

  1. Details of the testator;
  2. Date of the Will;
  3. Details of the person that drafted the Will; and
  4. The location where the Original Will is held, etc.

Procedure to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration

Similar to a Grant of Probate, an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration must be made to the appropriate Court depending on the value of the estate. For estates valued above S$5 million, the application can be made to the Family Division of the High Court whereas for estates valued below S$5 million, the application can be made to the Family Justice Court.

A brief summary of the procedure can be found below:

First, the following documents must be filed with the appropriate Court:

  • An Ex Parte Originating Summons;
  • Statement for Administration;
  • Death Certificate (certified true copy);
  • Death Certificate(s) for the deceased’s next of kin (if applicable); and
  • Renunciation of the beneficiaries with prior right (if applicable)

Next, your lawyer will write to the various financial institutions to determine the estate of the deceased. After the enquiries, your lawyer will prepare the relevant Administration Oath, Supporting Affidavit and a Schedule of Assets.

Upon the Court’s acceptance of the said supporting documents, the Court will proceed to issue a Grant of Letters of Administration to the appointed administrator(s).

Your lawyer will extract this Grant of Letters of Administration before the appointed administrator(s) may submit requests to the various financial institutions to liquidate, manage and/or distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act as follows:

SURVIVORABSENTWHO GETS WHAT
SpouseChildren, parentsSpouse gets everything
Spouse, childrenSpouse gets half, children gets the other half in equal portions
ChildrenSpouseChildren get everything in equal portions. Grandchildren can claim their parent’s share in equal portions if their parent is dead
Spouse, parentsChildrenSpouse gets half, parents get half in equal portions
ParentsSpouse, childrenParents get everything in equal portions
Brothers and sisters (or children of the deceased brother or sister)Spouse, children, parentsBrothers and sisters get equal portions. Their children can claim their share for them in equal portions if they are deceased
GrandparentsSpouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sistersGrandparents take the estate in equal portions
Uncles and auntsSpouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters, grandparentsUncles and aunts take the estate in equal portions
NoneEveryoneGovernment takes everything

Table taken from Singapore Legal Advice

The pain of the loss of a loved one, coupled with the tedious and complicated process of distributing the assets of a deceased can be daunting. We know it is a difficult period for you and we can guide you through the entire process.

Speak with us today.