Intestacy: Applying for Letters of Administration 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 a few steps in applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration:
1. Prepare the required documents
To apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration, you will need to fill in the following documents:
- Service Bureau Form for Application for Letters of Administration (download the “Probate Application / Citation” form from the e-Litigation website and click on the form’s “Probate” tab). 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 (Form 226). This form sets out the deceased’s assets in Singapore and overseas, and any outstanding debts in Singapore secured by mortgage. If you don’t know the full extent of the deceased’s assets, you will need to write to financial institutions to obtain information on these assets (see step 4 below).
If anyone eligible to apply to for the Grant of Letters of Administration wishes to give up that right to do so, they will need to fill and sign in the “Renunciation of beneficiaries with prior right” form (Form 53).
Supporting documents that you will need when applying for the Grant of Letters of Administration are the certified true copies of the:
- Death certificate of the deceased
- Death certificates of next-of-kin (if applicable)
- Divorce certificate of the deceased (if applicable)
- Foreign grant (if applicable)
- Inheritance certificate (if applicable)
Unless otherwise stated, all forms can be downloaded from the “Probate” section of this Family Justice Courts webpage.
2. Conduct a search for existing caveats and probate applications on the estate
After preparing all your documents, bring them to the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau. At the Service Bureau, you will need to conduct a search for existing caveats and probate applications on the deceased’s estate, or existing claims to the right to administer the deceased’s estate.
You will also need to attach the full and summary reports of the search to your application.
3. Submit your application for a grant
When you are done with the caveat and probate application search, it’s time to submit all your documents to apply for the Grant of Letters of Administration at the Service Bureau. The Service Bureau will use your documents to prepare the following documents:
- Originating application
- Probate statement
- Schedule of Assets
If you are applying for the grant more than 6 months after the death of the deceased, give reasons as to why.
After submitting your application, the courts will usually take 1-3 weeks to accept your application. If there are errors in your application, the court will reject your application and state their reasons for doing so. You will have to correct the errors and re-file the documents.
You can be notified by SMS once your application has been approved, so you can go back to the Service Bureau to collect your approved documents.
4. File the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath
The next step is to prepare and file in the Supporting Affidavit (Form 225) and Administration Oath (Form 54). These documents must be filed within 14 days of the filing of your application.
In the Supporting Affidavit, you will confirm that details of the application are correct. On the other hand, the Administration Oath is for you to undertake that you will faithfully administer the deceased’s estate. Both documents need to be sworn or affirmed before a Commissioner for Oaths.
Preparation of the Schedule of Assets
The Schedule of Assets (Form 226) is to be filed with the Supporting Affidavit. If you need to ascertain what assets the deceased had in order to fill in the Schedule of Assets, you will have to write to banks, the CPF Board and any other financial institutions.
You should only write to these institutions after your application for the Grant of Letters of Administration has been accepted. This is because these institutions usually require a certified true copy of the court-approved originating application before they will give you any information.
However, it can take a few weeks or months to hear from all the financial institutions. If you are unable to get all the information from them by the deadline for filing the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath, you should file these 2 documents first without the Schedule of Assets.
Then, once you have heard from all the financial institutions, you can file the complete Schedule of Assets, together with a supplementary affidavit that also needs to be sworn or affirmed before a Commissioner for Oaths.
If there are no issues with the application, the court should approve the Grant of Letters of Administration and grant you an “Order in Terms”. You will know the outcome of your application when you receive a letter from the court requesting for you to extract the grant.
5. Extract the grant
Once the court issues the Grant of Letters of Administration, you can apply to extract the grant using the Request to Extract Grant form. To obtain this form, download the same “Probate Application / Citation” form from the e-Litigation website (as mentioned above) and click on the form’s “Extraction of Grant” tab.
You will also have to conduct one last caveat and probate search application search. The results of this search will have to be filed together with your request to extract the grant. After extracting the grant, you will have the Grant of Letters of Administration which authorises you to manage the deceased’s estate.
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 with this process.
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