So you’ve just inherited a property… But what can you expect from here on?
Do you need to pay tax on the property you inherit? Are you even allowed to inherit it in the first place?
That’s right, inheriting a property isn’t always straightforward, and sometimes, the beneficiary may not even benefit from the inheritance.
“It is common in Singapore to be asset-rich and cash-poor, and property is typically a huge part of the value of the estate. Clients often want to will their property because it’s a high-value asset, but the question is whether the beneficiary can actually extract and use that value,” explained Dharma Sadasivan, director at BR Law Corporation.
“Consider whether the beneficiaries will actually benefit – or are they incurring liabilities like property tax or Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty until the asset is liquidated? It’s an important distinction.”
For this guide, we’ve partnered with legacy planning marketplace, Immortalize, to speak to lawyers and experts on the top things to consider before inheriting or gifting a property in Singapore.
Read more here.
Is There Stamp Duty on Inherited Property?
In Singapore, when buying or selling a property, there’s the implication of Buyer’s Stamp Duty, Seller’s Stamp Duty, and Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD). You may also check out PropertyGuru’s stamp duty calculator here.
Depending on the circumstances, the above-mentioned stamp duties may or may not apply.
If the properties are transferred pursuant to a will or intestacy laws, there will be no stamp duties, including ABSD, even if the beneficiary has more than one residential property in Singapore, according to Lee Soo Chye, Partner at Wee Swee Teow LLP.
If the beneficiary then resells the property, whether there are stamp duties will depend on when the deceased purchased the property (and not when the beneficiary acquired the property).
Here’s an example from Lee:
“For example, Mr Tan bought a residential property in 2020 and passes away in 2021. The transfer of the property to Mr Tan’s beneficiaries, whether under Mr Tan’s will or pursuant to intestacy laws, will not attract Buyer’s Stamp Duties. But if Mr Tan’s beneficiaries decide to sell the property and the sale takes place within 3 years from the time Mr Tan acquired the property, that sale is subject to Seller’s Stamp Duties.”
“Usually in wills, we will put in a clause to give powers to the executor/trustee to decide on the appropriate action,” Ivan Tay, Director at Robertson Chambers LLC, says. “The clause will give trustees powers to hold on to the property for as long till the price is right and sell at the appropriate time.”
What Happens When Siblings Inherit A House?
What if you inherit a property together with other beneficiaries, such as your siblings?
The problem of stamp duty arises when the beneficiaries want to transfer their inherited shares of the property to one another, according to Chong Yue-En, Managing Director at Bethel Chambers LLC.
Here’s an example from Chong:
“Imagine this: A mother passes away and gives the house to her three kids. Out of the three kids, two have their own property, while one is still living in the house. Assuming the two kids who have their own property decided to give their share of the house to the kid still living in the house, regardless of whether the two kids are selling their shares or just giving their shares for free, the kid living in the house will incur stamp duty and will need to consider how much stamp duty he/she will have to pay.”
When you write your will, you need to envision what exactly you want to happen.
“Do you envision liquidating the property and distributing the cash to the kids, or perhaps your intention is to allow the kid staying in the house to continue staying in the house without consideration for whether the other two kids need to cash out or not,” Chong explains. “The first point to think about is what exactly are your wishes. After knowing your wishes, then plan such that your beneficiaries are not constrained by all the possible legal hiccups.”
Ability to Inherit the Property
Another issue to consider is whether you (or who you are giving your property to) can inherit the property.
Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR)
If you’re inheriting not just the property, but the mortgage as well – i.e., the property is not fully paid for – then the banks will also need to assess your TDSR as a form of credit assessment.
“A lot of the time, people think this will only affect them when they want to buy a property. But if they pass away, the bank will have to assess whether the beneficiary’s income can qualify the TDSR before the beneficiary can inherit the property,” Alfred Chia, CEO of financial advisory firm SingCapital said. “If they don’t qualify for the TDSR, they cannot inherit the loan and thus, cannot inherit the property.”
Here’s an example from Chia:
“Let’s say Mr. Tan. has a property that is worth $2 million, and he has an outstanding loan of $1.5 million. Mr. Tan passed away and he is survived by his 60-year-old widow, a homemaker. The son, who is only 22 years old, is still studying and has no income. The problem is: can this widow and the son inherit the property? The banks would need to ensure that the beneficiaries can qualify the TDSR assessment. Since they cannot qualify, they cannot take over the loan. If you can’t take over the loan, they have to sell the house.”
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when inheriting a property or willing it to a loved one. There are also many questions to ask yourself when planning inheritance on your property – read about it here: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Estate Planning for Your Property.
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This guide was written in collaboration with Immortalize, a legacy planning marketplace where you can find out more and compare lawyers and their rates and services.
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