What happens to your property after you die?

Here are all the things you don't want to think about, but could happen to your property after you die.
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Death is a rite of passage that we all go through in life. Unfortunately, proper estate planning isn’t something that most are prepared for. 

In Singapore, how your assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries after your death depends on whether or not you have a will. But before we get into that…

 

What is a will?

In simple terms, a will is a legal document that contains your wishes and instructions of how you want your assets (e.g: properties, money, stocks) to be distributed/managed after your death. 

It can contain a few simple instructions, or can be detailed enough to include the list of beneficiaries, their share of the inheritance, who the appointed executor is (more on that later), and how you want your assets to be distributed, among others.  

A will is important because it helps to reduce any trouble or conflicts over your inheritance, especially if you want to properly distribute all your assets among your beneficiaries (children, spouse, other potential beneficiaries). It will also ensure that the clauses in your will protects and provides for your family, when you pass away. 

Note: your CPF savings are not part of your will. If you want to distribute your CPF savings, you need to make a CPF nomination.

Now that you understand what a will is, here's what happens to your assets after you die, if you have and don’t have a will:

 

If you have a will

If you left behind a will, an executor will be responsible to carry out the instructions left in your will.

According to Singapore Legal Advice's website, an executor of a will is “a person who is responsible for administering the assets and carrying out the wishes of the deceased as outlined in his/her will”. 

In other words, an executor is a person chosen by you to manage and distribute your assets upon your death. Usually, an executor is a legal professional, such as a lawyer. However, it can also be someone that you trust, including your spouse, relative, adult child, or a close friend. It’s also possible to employ more than one executor to have joint executors. Read this article for the legal requirements and considerations of choosing an executor. 

Apart from managing and distributing your assets, an executor’s role also extends to paying off your debts and making funeral arrangements.   

In order for an executor to act on your will, he/she has to apply for a Grant of Probate with the Singapore Courts for permission to legally distribute and manage your assets. A Grant of Probate is essentially a legal document that provides the executor legal authority to carry out your will, and obtaining it is a must

 

If you don’t have a will

On the other hand, if there isn’t a will, you would have died in “intestacy”, which is a term for someone who passed away without a will

In this case, your assets will follow the Intestacy Laws of Singapore, which basically means the Court will empower whoever that it deems the most worthy to administer your assets. This also means that the person that the Court employs may not be the person you intend to manage your assets. 

However, your next-of-kin can also apply to the Court for the Grant of Letters of Administration. These letters give a person the authorisation to administer and distribute the assets according to Singapore law. 

In order for one to be an administrator, one must be one of the seven classes according to the Intestate Succession Act. These classes are (in descending priority):

  1. The spouse;
  2. The children of the deceased;
  3. The parents;
  4. Brothers and sisters;
  5. Nephews and nieces;
  6. Grandparents; and
  7. Uncles and aunt

Included below are guidelines on the laws of Intestacy in Singapore, determining how one estate is distributed in the absence of a will:

 

Spouse
Children, parents
Spouse gets everything
Spouse, children
 
Spouse gets half, children get the other half in equal portions
Children
Spouse
Children get everything in equal portions. Grandchildren can claim their parent's share in equal portions if their parent is deceased
Spouse, parents
Children
Spouse gets half, parents get half in equal portions 
Parents
Spouse, children
Parents get everything in equal portions
Siblings (or children of the deceased siblings)
Spouse, children, parents
Siblings get equal portions. Their children can claim their share for them in equal portions if they are deceased
Grandparents
Spouse, children, parents, siblings, or children of siblings
Grandparents take the estate in equal portions
Uncles and aunts
Spouse, children, parents, siblings, or children of siblings, grandparents
Uncles and aunts take the estate in equal portions
None
Everyone
Government takes everything

Source

To understand more, you can read this article for a simplified version of the rules.

 

What happens if you're a co-owner of a property?

Joint tenant or tenancy-in-common?

If you're a co-owner of a property, the distribution of your share of your property is dependent on the manner of holding; whether if it’s under a joint tenancy or tenancy-in-common. 

 

Joint Tenant Scheme 

If you're a joint owner, you'll hold an equal interest in the property with the other owner(s), regardless of how much you paid for the property. For example, if you're one of the two co-owners of a property, you and your co-owner will own 50% of the property. If you're joint tenants with three other owners, each will own 25%, and so on.

The thing about joint tenancy is that the right of survivorship applies. What this means is that if one of the owners passes on, his/her right of ownership will be transferred to the surviving owner(s), whether one has a will or not.

 

Tenancy-in-Common

Conversely, tenants-in-common have different ownership interests of the property. Also unlike a joint tenancy, an owner's share of the property will be distributed according to the will of the deceased owner, and not to the other co-owners of the property. 

If the deceased doesn't have a will, the Court will nominate someone to administer your property based on the Intestacy laws of Singapore

 

In short, we hope the article has provided you with a brief overview of how various properties are distributed upon one’s passing, whether or not one has a will in Singapore.

Home buyers looking for Singapore Properties may like to visit our ListingsProject Reviews and Guides.

Victor Kang, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email victorkang@propertyguru.com.sg

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