Who will take care of the kids if one of us – or even both – pass away? And who will get the house? Or the money we have in the bank? It’s important to know the answers to these kinds of questions. Making a will ensures that these matters can be settled if anything were to happen to us. Here, legal experts in Singapore answer some of our questions about wills and how they work.
What happens if I die without a will?
“Failing to have a will can have significant consequences for your family. Singapore’s rules on intestate succession law will determine how the deceased’s estate is distributed – unfortunately not always what the deceased would have chosen. For example, if the deceased leaves a spouse and children behind, the spouse only gets 50% of the estate, leaving the other 50% to the children. If the deceased leaves a spouse, parents but have no children, the estate is divided between the spouse and their parents.
The primary advantage of a will is the certainty of succession, making sure that who you want to inherit your assets will do so. It avoids family conflict, simplifies and reduces the cost of obtaining probate, finding and collecting assets, inheritance tax planning, ensures guardianship of children and provides guidance for funeral arrangements. Preparing a will requires relatively little cost and time during your lifetime, and can significantly reduce the burden on your family.”
– Marcus Hinkley, Head of Private Client Services Asia
16 Raffles Quay, #33-02 Hong Leong Building
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My spouse and I wish to draft identical wills so that our assets can be given to each other. Can we create a will together?
“A joint will is a single will executed by both parties. Upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse is bound to the effects of the joint will to ensure that the assets are distributed according to the joint wishes stated in the will. An individual in a joint will would not be able to revoke or amend the will, unless with the consent of both parties. Even if a new individual will is created by one of the parties, it would not supersede the joint will.
Alternatively, you can get individual wills that mirror one another. This will allow each party to revoke or amend his or her personal will at any time.”
– Spencer Chew, Senior Legal Associate
What are Letters of Administration and when are they needed?
“If your loved one has passed on in Singapore without a will (intestate) and there is property (known as the estate) left behind, it will be distributed according to intestacy laws in Singapore or according to Muslim inheritance laws for Muslims. If the deceased has property overseas, immovable property like houses should be distributed according to the intestacy law of the relevant country. You will need to apply for a document called a Letter of Administration from the Family Justice Court in Singapore in order to handle your loved one’s assets.
The Court may appoint up to four administrators for the Letter of Administration. If one or more of the beneficiaries of the estate is below 21 years, then at least two administrators must be appointed. As there can be a fair amount of paperwork involved, it’s best to get lawyers to handle the process.”
– Sarah-Mae Thomas, Managing Director
Is my will able to cover property and assets across different countries?
“Wow, this is a difficult question. The simple answer would be no, unless it meets certain criteria – and even then, only maybe. The world has two legal systems: common law and civil law. In common law countries, wills are followed as long as they are made correctly and are witnessed by the right number of people. Most (but not all) would accept a will made in another common law country as long as it meets that country’s criteria. In civil law countries, the distribution of assets tends to be laid down in that country’s law. Some would recognise wills from another country as long as it does not override local law.
If you have assets in different countries or jurisdictions, it’s best to get advice from professionals. They will let you know if you need a separate document for your specific asset. In some cases, each will or document must be mentioned in both so they don’t make the other invalid.”
– Chris Potter, Director and Financial Planner