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.
Understandably, it can be difficult to handle such matters as deliberating over your possible demise might not be something you want to think about. But planning your will and managing your financial assets, including property, are important parts of keeping your legal affairs in order. Additionally, you can also prevent your loved ones from experiencing additional trauma.
In Singapore, how your assets will be distributed to your beneficiaries after your death depends on whether or not you have a will. Here's a breakdown of what happens to your property after you pass.
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 protect 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 authority 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):
The children of the deceased;
Brothers and sisters;
Nephews and nieces;
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:
Who Gets What
Spouse gets everything
Spouse gets half, children get the other half in equal portions
Children get everything in equal portions. Grandchildren can claim their parent's share in equal portions if their parent is deceased
Spouse gets half, parents get half in equal portions
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
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
Government takes everything
Source: Singapore Legal Advice
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?
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.
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.
Making a Will to Allocate Property Distribution after Death
Under Singapore law, there are contingencies for what happens to your HDB flat or private property after you pass on. But if you want to bequeath your property to a particular individual or organisation, it's best to make a will.
More FAQ on What Happens to Your Property after You Die
Who Is the Owner of Property after Husband’s Death?
If you’re married and you pass on, the house goes to your spouse and children.
What Happens to a Person's Property When They Die?
This depends on whether or not you have will, and if you have family who are still alive.
Can I Live in My Parents House after They Die?
Whoever inherits their house has the right to decide who will live in that house and what happens to it.
Can I Leave Everything to One Child?
Yes, you can. Ideally, have a family arrangement deal and include your wishes in your will to prevent dispute and contestation.
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