By: Harriet Empey
Death is not something anyone really wants to think about, so many people tend to put off making a will, sometimes until it’s too late. Harriet Empey asked Chartwell Associates what special considerations expats need to make when drawing up a will.
What are the implications if a person dies intestate in Singapore, particularly if they have children? What if both parents die?
All countries have legislation that spells out the distribution of a deceased person’s assets if they die intestate (without having made a will). In Singapore, if there are children, the surviving spouse is entitled to one half and the other half is divided amongst the children. If the children are orphaned then everything passes to them equally. The problem here is that if there is no will, probably no one would have been appointed to take care of the children or sort out the estate. Normally, the relatives who can take this on are in the home country, so having a will is especially important for an expat’s young children who cannot look after themselves or their money.
If a will is made in Singapore, but most of your assets are in your home country, will your home country recognise it?
A will made in Singapore, where you are currently resident, will be recognised as valid by every state which has signed up to the Hague Convention. Countries that do not have common law, for example most of continental Europe, may have laws which override the provisions in your will.
If your will is drawn up in your home country, but you have assets in Singapore, like cash in the bank, do those assets need to be included?
Yes, but it is important to realise that probate (to establish the validity of a will) will need to be obtained in all countries where you have assets. So, for example, if a UK national dies having assets in France, Singapore and Thailand, probate would have to take place in each of those countries. If you do not have a valid will this could delay the process of probate and the eventual distribution of the estate, possibly by years. If your assets are located in countries of the Commonwealth, the process is much more simple as a probate obtained in your home Commonwealth country can be used to realise assets in Singapore.
Is it best to draw up your will in your home country, in the country where you have most assets or in the country where you currently reside?
Bearing in mind the main aim of a will is to ensure that your assets are distributed as you wish, it could be that the answer to this question is “yes” to all. This is where the position of expatriates is typically more complicated than that of people who remain in their home country. If you have assets in more than one country it is a good idea to have a will that can handle multiple jurisdictions. You may even need more than one will, especially if you have property in other countries, which then of course raises the issue that the wills must be compatible and able to work together.
Is it necessary to meet with a lawyer or solicitor to draw up a will? Are there any legal implications if you don’t? Is it all right to use a DIY will kit?
Again this depends on your nationality and where your assets are situated. In certain European countries you can only do it yourself, and in others you must instruct a lawyer in your home country to make your will.
However, it is strongly advisable not to do it yourself but to take professional advice as even a small mistake could become very costly and result in your assets not passing to your intended beneficiaries. If you have to consider assets in different jurisdictions without due consideration or professional guidance, the result could actually be worse, and more distressing for the surviving family and relatives, than having no will.
Also, by taking professional advice, issues such as Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax or other death duties can be identified early and solutions put in place, which could save tens or even hundred of thousands of pounds (or euros or dollars), and a lot of stress and heartache.
When making a will in Singapore, is it better to find a lawyer who trained in your home country to assist you?
It is not easy to find a lawyer here who trained in your home country and has continued to specialise in will preparation. In Singapore it is better to find a lawyer who has the experience to know the legal requirements for wills in your home country and also the countries in which you have assets and beneficiaries.
Philip Duckworth, a UK lawyer based in Singapore, works in conjunction with Chartwell Associates to draw up wills. He is one of few lawyers here who understand the issues faced by expats in dealing with assets in multiple jurisdictions.
April is Chartwell Associates’ Will Awareness Month. To encourage EL readers to make a will, they are offering a $200 discount off the cost of making a will. If you haven’t made a will yet, contact Chartwell Associates on 6321 9125 for an appointment.