Applying for Letters of Administration: Intestacy Laws in Singapore
If a loved one has passed away leaving behind property (known as the estate), but without a will, his or her estate may only be administered and distributed in accordance with Singapore’s intestacy laws under the Intestate Succession Act (ISA) for non-Muslims, or in accordance with Muslim law for Muslims.
This article discusses the process under the ISA for administering the estate of a loved one who has passed away without leaving behind a will (i.e. died intestate).
What is a Grant of Letters of Administration?
In order to start administering a loved one’s estate, you are required to first apply to the court for a Grant of Letters of Administration.
This is a legal document that authorises you to be the administrator of the deceased’s estate, and administer and distribute the estate according to the ISA.
If the deceased has left behind a will, you generally should apply for a Grant of Probate instead.
Read our other article for the differences between a Grant of Letters of Administration and Grant of Probate.
When Do I Need to Apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration?
Generally, you have to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration when the deceased person passes away without leaving behind a will, and you wish to administer and distribute his or her estate.
However, you are also required to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration where the deceased left behind a will, but there is a failure of executors in any of the following situations:
- There is no executor appointed by the will;
- The executor(s) appointed by the will are legally incapable of acting as such, or have renounced their right to act as such;
- The executor(s) passed away before the deceased;
- The executor(s) passed away before obtaining probate, or administering all the deceased’s estate; or
- The executor(s) appointed by the will do not appear and extract probate.
The person empowered by a Grant of Letters of Administration to administer a deceased’s estate is known as the administrator.
In administering the estate, the administrator is required to first pay the debts, liabilities, taxes, funeral and other expenses of the deceased. Afterwards, the administrator will distribute the balance of the estate according to any applicable laws such as the ISA.
Who Can and Cannot be an Administrator?
According to section 18 of the Probate and Administration Act (PAA), the court may grant Letters of Administration to the deceased’s spouse, next-of-kin, or any of them individually or jointly.
Particularly, the ISA sets out 7 classes of persons who, in descending order of priority, are entitled to apply for this grant. They are the deceased’s:
- Nephews and nieces;
- Grandparents; and
- Uncles and aunts.
Infants (i.e. persons below 21 years old) and persons who are mentally disordered are not allowed to be administrators. Where a person entitled to a grant is an infant, such a grant will be made to his or her guardian.
Similarly, where a person entitled to a grant is mentally disordered, such a grant will be made to the person who has been legally entrusted with the mentally disordered person’s affairs.
How Many Administrators Can be Appointed?
The court may appoint up to 4 administrators.
If one or more of the beneficiaries of the estate is below 21 years of age, then either at least 2 administrators, or a trust corporation, must be appointed.
Where there are multiple administrators, they will act jointly to administer the estate. This means that they will have to act unanimously at all times.
What If I do Not Wish to be an Administrator?
If you are one of the persons who are entitled to apply for, or may become entitled to, a Grant of Letters of Administration but do not wish to do or be so, you may renounce your right to apply for the grant.
You may renounce your right to apply for this grant:
- Orally (either by you or your lawyer) at the hearing for a Grant of Letters of Administration; or
- In signed writing (attested by your lawyer or by any person before whom an affidavit may be sworn, such as a Commissioner for Oaths).
How to Apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration
You may apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration yourself, should you wish to. The Family Justice Courts have prepared a Probate & Administration Toolkit to assist individuals in doing so.
However, you may also engage a lawyer to assist you in such an application, and typically the lawyer’s legal fees would be covered by the deceased’s estate.
There are 3 main stages in applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration:
- Filing the application for a grant.
- Filing the Supporting Affidavit. The supporting affidavit will show the Schedule of Assets (if available), and any other supporting papers required such as certified true copies of the death certificate, foreign grant, inheritance certificate and others.
- Extracting the grant. A grant is extracted when the court issues the Grant of Letters of Administration. After extracting the grant, you will have the legal documents which authorises you to manage the deceased’s estate.
At each stage, there will be documents and forms to submit, as well as fees payable. Some documents you would be required to produce are the certified true copies of:
- Death certificate
- Death certificates of next-of-kin (if any)
- Divorce certificate of the deceased (if any)
Some forms you are required to prepare are as follows:
- Service Bureau Form for Application for Letters of Administration. This form is an application form with administrative details to fill in, such as the deceased and applicant’s details, in order to start the process of obtaining a Grant of Letters of Administration.
- Schedule of Assets. This form sets out the deceased’s property in Singapore, overseas, and any outstanding debts in Singapore secured by mortgage.
- Renunciation of beneficiaries with prior right, Form 53 (if applicable). This form is signed by beneficiaries with prior right to confirm that he or she is giving up his or her right to apply for Letters of Administration.
The documents and forms are to be submitted to the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau. Fees may vary on a case-by-case basis. For more information on these forms, documents and fees, you may wish to refer to the Probate & Administration Toolkit.
You will know the outcome of your application when you receive a letter from the court requesting for you to extract the grant.
How Does the Administrator Distribute the Estate?
The following chart illustrates how the administrator may distribute the deceased’s estate. There are 9 simple rules outlined in section 7 of the ISA. After all owed taxes and debts are paid, the assets are distributed in the following order:
|SURVIVOR||ABSENT||WHO GETS WHAT|
|Spouse||Children, parents||Spouse gets everything|
|Spouse, children||Spouse gets half, children gets the other half in equal portions|
|Children||Spouse||Children get everything in equal portions. Grandchildren can claim their parent’s share in equal portions if their parent is dead|
|Spouse, parents||Children||Spouse gets half, parents get half in equal portions|
|Parents||Spouse, children||Parents get everything in equal portions|
|Brothers and sisters (or children of the deceased brother or sister)||Spouse, children, parents||Brothers and sisters get equal portions. Their children can claim their share for them in equal portions if they are deceased|
|Grandparents||Spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters||Grandparents take the estate in equal portions|
|Uncles and aunts||Spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters, grandparents||Uncles and aunts take the estate in equal portions|
|None||Everyone||Government takes everything|
If the deceased has property overseas and died intestate, immovable property like houses should be distributed according to the law of the relevant country where the property is located in.
On the other hand, movable property like cash may be distributed according to Singapore law.
What If the Deceased Who Died Without a Will was a Muslim, or Died While Overseas?
If the deceased was Muslim
If the deceased who has passed away without a will was a Muslim domiciled in Singapore, the Administration of Muslim Law Act and Syariah law would apply instead.
The appropriate person to apply for the Grant of Letters of Administration, and administer the estate, would then be the person with the highest number of shares in the estate in accordance with the Inheritance Certificate.
The Inheritance Certificate is a document which has to be obtained from the Syariah Court prior to the application for the Grant of Letters of Administration. You can read more about the distribution of estates belonging to deceased Muslims in our other article.
If the deceased died overseas
If the deceased passed away while overseas, you will need to obtain a death certificate issued by the foreign authorities, and an English translation if the death certificate is not in English.
Losing a loved one can be emotionally draining as it is, and the process of applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration can be complex in the number of steps to complete and documents to submit.
You may wish to get in touch with one of our experienced probate lawyers to assist you in this process.
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