Death. We don’t really want to think about it, but preparing for the worst now when you’re not in the middle of emotional turmoil makes sense. And dying in Singapore creates even more complications when the deceased happens to be an expat Employment Pass holder.
Our readers sent in questions about what would happen if someone they loved died in Singapore. For the answers, we turned to Flying Home, a company specialising in repatriation services for departed loved ones, along with LESLIE FOONG at Lawhub LLC and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
“I heard that once a death has been registered in Singapore, a notification is issued that freezes bank accounts or similar, possibly limiting the surviving spouse’s access to money. Is that true?”
The EP holder’s company must notify the MOM about the death within seven days. However, the Singapore authorities do not notify the banks of the death; so, the banks would not know of the death until the spouse or a next-of-kin notifies them. Once notified, the banks would “freeze” the accounts, which are held solely in the deceased’s name. On the other hand, joint accounts are not affected.
“If an Employment Pass (EP) holder passes away, what are the implications for the Dependant’s Pass holders left behind? Would a landlord release them from their tenancy?”
In the case of a tenancy held in joint names, the tenancy would continue unless it is terminated by the consent of the landlord. If the sole lease signer is the EP holder, then the lease is no longer valid after they die. However, in some cases, landlords will allow the family to maintain their dwelling until the lease expires, so long as the rent continues to be paid. Others only allow the dependants to remain in the home until the end of the month.
“Would the EP holder’s company provide the family with support for the repatriation?”
Under Singapore law, companies are required to bear the cost of the burial or cremation here in Singapore or the cost of repatriating the departed’s remains or ashes. Flying Home can handle all these details for you, easing the already incredibly difficult time. The EP’s company is also required to pay for the family and their belongings to be repatriated. The exception is if the contract signed by the Employment Pass holder stipulates otherwise.
“When an EP holder dies, how long does the government give a dependant before they have to leave Singapore as a resident?”
Under Singapore law, companies must notify the MOM of the death within seven days from the time the death certificate is issued. Then the company can apply for the family to get a 30-day pass to settle their affairs. After this pass expires, the dependants must leave Singapore.
“What’s the implication for children in school if the EP holder dies?”
If the children were attending school under the Employment Pass, they can apply for a Student Pass. The government issues Student Passes on a case-by-case basis. If they do issue one, the surviving parent may stay in Singapore with the child.
“Should the surviving spouse have a plan to go somewhere if the other one dies?”
Absolutely, you should have a plan in place, especially as Singapore requires dependants to leave (as noted above). This plan should be discussed between the couple when they’re putting their will together. Knowing what you will do alleviates stress during an already difficult time. There is also comfort knowing the deceased spouse had input on what would happen after death.
“Where can you go in Singapore for advice on contingency planning? This includes things like life insurance, pension provisions and tax implications for family members left behind.”
You can first check with the employer to see if they offer such resources for their employees. If not, you can contact a law firm or a law agency such as Lawhub LLC.
“Are there any country-specific considerations? Example: would a will written in Singapore apply to assets both here and in the UK? Is this true of all jurisdictions?”
A will that is validly made in Singapore is considered valid in England and perhaps Wales, but Scotland and Northern Ireland are questionable. If there are assets in other jurisdictions, the issue is complicated. First, you must consider whether a will made in Singapore is considered valid in the country where the asset is located. You may need to provide proof that the will was prepared and made in compliance with the requirements of Singapore law. Even if the will is considered valid, the laws in a particular country may not allow the assets to be passed to the intended beneficiaries. So, in cases where assets are in different jurisdictions, it’s advisable to make a separate will in each jurisdiction where assets are located.
“What happens to children in Singapore if both parents die before a permanent guardian is assigned or takes over? We have assigned local temporary guardians, but is that sufficient?”
If expats have children here in Singapore but only a will from another country and an appointed guardian, this will not be honoured here. Children will become wards of Singapore and there could be a long drawn-out custody battle. If the deceased has named a guardian who is not the other biological parent (such as a step-parent or other relative) in the will, there could be a contest for custody between the named guardian and the surviving biological parent.
If the surviving biological parent lives in another country, there may also be a battle over whether the Singapore court is the proper forum to decide on the children’s custody. The Singapore court, if it decides it is the proper forum, will consider all factors, including the fact that the deceased has named the guardian in the will. Overall, the court has to determine what’s in the best interest of the children when deciding the issue of custody. For these reasons, it’s wise to have a completed designated guardian form. However, it’s preferable to have a legal document done by a law firm or agency and not just a signed document.
“What’s involved in repatriating somebody who dies? How can the remaining spouse handle all this on top of their grief?”
Documentation such as death certificates, export permits and legalisation of all forms by governing bodies can be completely handled by Flying Home. They can also handle all the arrangements for things such as wake services, religious rites, booking of a flight for full body repatriation, fees and ground transportation. Families can decide to have a funeral or memorial service in Singapore, back home or both places. The process of expediting a repatriation is determined by the country to which they are returning to, as well as flight schedules. This process can take anywhere from 36 hours to five weeks.
To learn more about making plans and arrangements for the unimaginable, contact flyinghome.com.
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This article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue.