Muslim Inheritance Law in Singapore
Muslim intestate law, faraid, is provided for under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) and is administered by the Syariah Court in Singapore. The exact legal principles that are applicable to the deceased under the AMLA will depend on which school of faith, or madhab, he or she subscribed to, and whether he or she was Malay.
Most Muslims in Singapore follow the Shafi’i madhab, and this madhab thus applies by default unless proof that the deceased had followed another madhab is shown.
Whose Properties May Fall under Faraid?
Under section 111(1) of the AMLA, all Muslims who are domiciled in Singapore who pass away after 1 July 1968 must have their intestate property administered according to faraid.
Any will made by the Muslim deceased must also conform to faraid principles, as will be elaborated on below.
What Properties Fall under Faraid?
In general, where Muslim law and civil law clash as to whether a particular property should be distributed under faraid, the civil law will prevail. This is unless the legislation under the civil law expressly says it does not apply to Muslims.
However, this framework applies only if the method of distribution is being contested in the courts. If the parties accept their entitlements under faraid, or an alternative arrangement as specified under a fatwa issued by the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), then they will be bound by such arrangements.
A fatwa is an Islamic legal ruling issued by the MUIS. It is also important to note that fatwas are not binding on the courts. Fatwas are regarded as expert opinions, which can be rejected if the court finds that they are not applicable to the issue.
The following categories of property do not fall to be distributed under faraid:
- Property owned under joint tenancy registered under the Land Titles Act. According to the Court of Appeal in Shafeeg bin Salim Talib v Fatimah bte Abud, these properties fall under the general principles of civil law. This is because the Land Titles Act does not contain express provisions exempting Muslims, meaning that it applies to them. As a result, the right to property owned under joint tenancy would be passed to the surviving joint tenant(s) on the death of one of the joint tenants. In 2019, MUIS also issued a fatwa stating the same thing.
- CPF moneys that have been nominated. Where the deceased had made a nomination in favour of another person for the moneys in his or her CPF account, the CPF moneys belong solely to that nominee. These moneys do not fall to be distributed under faraid.
- Life insurance payouts to nominees. Section 73 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act states that life insurance policies on a deceased person do not form part of his estate. These policies belong to the persons named in them as nominees.
Aside from restrictions from the civil law, the following deductions will also be made from the estate before it is distributed according to faraid:
- Gifts, i.e. hibah, made while the deceased was still alive. As long as the gift takes effect while the deceased was still alive, the property transferred under these gifts do not fall under the estate of the deceased. Gifts that purport to take effect at a set time before the death of the deceased, i.e. nuzriah, do not exempt the gifted properties from being subject to faraid. This will be elaborated on under the section on wills below.
- Jointly acquired (matrimonial) property, i.e. harta sepencarian, if the deceased was Malay. Where the deceased and another person had acquired property jointly during a marriage, this property will be divided as the court deems fit, in accordance with Malay customs. The remainder of the property will fall under the estate of the deceased. There have been no cases reported in Singapore on this issue, but Malaysian courts have awarded between half to one-third of the harta sepencarian to the wife of the deceased.
- Vows, i.e. nasr or nazar, that are made to Allah. Such vows may be vows with penalties, i.e. where the deceased vowed to give some property if he did something, or vows of gratitude, i.e. where the deceased vowed to give some property if something were to occur. Vows cannot be for an unjust or illegal (according to Islamic law) purpose, or to do something that is already obligatory (under Islamic law).
- Funeral and other expenses relating to the death of the deceased.
- Debt to Allah. This includes monies owed to MUIS for zakat. Further sources of debt may be from kaffarah and fidyah, and hajj expenses.
- Debt to persons.
All property remaining after the deductions made above fall under faraid and must be distributed accordingly, subject to any will that the deceased may have.
What is Relevance of the Deceased’s Will?
The deceased may have written a will, or wassiyat/wasiat, to distribute some part of his estate. The will must be, following section 6 of the Wills Act, in writing and signed by the deceased and two other witnesses.
The deceased may only will away up to a third of his estate after the deductions above have been made. Any amount above this one-third will be disregarded.
Further, he cannot, in his will, give additional benefits or property to anyone who is a beneficiary under faraid (i.e. spouses and blood relatives). This does not include persons who are not within the established faraid categories, including non-Muslims and adopted or illegitimate children. The will may therefore be made in their favour.
If the deceased had provided for any of his faraid beneficiaries in his will, then the relevant portion of the will is invalid unless all the other faraid beneficiaries agree that it is valid. This agreement must be made after the deceased’s death.
In order to get around the strict faraid will requirements, some have attempted to make a gift that takes effect at a set time before the deceased’s death, e.g. that the property will be deemed to have passed an hour before the death of the deceased. This is known as a testamentary nuzriah, and appears to be not valid under Singapore case law for now.
Therefore, the properties bequeathed under a testamentary nuzriah will still fall under the will requirements above, i.e. both the formality requirements under the Wills Act, and the Islamic requirements of the wassiyat.
Division of Assets under Faraid
The division of assets under faraid generally covers persons related by blood to the deceased, and the spouse(s) of the deceased. Generally, spouses and close family receive higher shares, and each man will receive twice the share of a woman of the same relational level.
Depending on the persons the deceased has left behind, a portion of the estate may be left to BaitulMal, which is a fund administered by the MUIS. If a person passes away without leaving any heirs, all his assets (save for any expressed validly in his will) will go to BaitulMal.
The beneficiaries under faraid are as follows:
Note: Consanguine siblings are siblings with the same father but not the same mother, while uterine siblings are siblings with the same mother but not the same father.
- Grandfather (father’s father)
- Uncle (father’s brother)
- Son’s Son
- Consanguine Nephew
- Uncle (father’s consanguine brother)
- Male Cousin
- Consanguine Brother
- Consanguine Male Cousin
- Uterine Brother
- Nephew (Brother’s son)
- Mother’s Mother
- Father’s Mother
- Consanguine Sister
- Son’s Daughter
- Uterine Sister
As the distribution rules of faraid are extremely extensive and complex depending on the remaining heirs, consider using the faraid calculator provided by the Syariah Court (click on the “inheritance” tab > “on-line trial calculation”) to gauge the amount to be distributed.
When applying online for an inheritance certificate on the Syariah Court website, a detailed distribution table will also be provided.
Process of Administering the Deceased’s Estate
The necessary steps involved in the process of distributing the deceased’s estate are:
(1) Apply for an Inheritance Certificate from the Syariah Court
This certificate identifies the beneficiaries and their relationships to the deceased. It aids in the proper distribution of the deceased’s estate by listing each beneficiary’s share of the deceased’s estate, in accordance with Muslim law.
Notably, the Inheritance Certificate does not take into account any valid will that the deceased may have made. Therefore, it is not necessarily definitive of the beneficiaries’ actual share entitlements to the estate.
You may apply for an Inheritance Certificate here. The Inheritance Certificate is required for the next step.
(2) Apply for a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration from the Family Justice Courts
This allows the court to appoint a personal representative responsible for the distribution of the deceased’s estate.
Where the deceased made a will, a Grant of Probate authorises an Executor (named in the deceased’s will) to administer his estate pursuant to the wishes of the deceased as stated in his will.
Where the deceased died intestate without making a will, a Grant of Letters of Administration authorises an Administrator to distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with faraid. Letters of Administration may be granted at the court’s discretion to the deceased’s next-of-kin, or any other person entitled to a share in the estate according to Muslim law.
(3) Distribution of the deceased’s estate by the appointed personal representatives
Where the deceased made a valid will, the Executor is required to distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the will. The Executor is also required to resolve any outstanding debts and liabilities of the deceased.
Where the deceased died intestate without making a will, the Administrator is required to distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with faraid.
Always consult a lawyer well-versed in Muslim law when planning your Muslim inheritance for the latest and most relevant legal advice. You may wish to use our platform to get in touch with Muslim law lawyers.
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