What is Probate? Is It Needed If Your Loved One Passes Away?

Last updated on March 10, 2021

last will and testament document with pen

What is Probate?

Probate is a process that deals with the distribution of the assets of the deceased in accordance with their wishes.

When a loved one passes away, there are mainly two different routes that you can take when it comes to dealing with their possessions. Each route is a different legal process and depends on whether the deceased has made a will.

If the deceased left behind a will, you would make an application for a Grant of Probate. If the deceased did not make a will, you would make an application for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

This article will focus on an application for a Grant of Probate and will explain:

What is the Purpose of Making an Application for a Grant of Probate and Who Makes the Application?

The reason why an application for a Grant of Probate needs to be made is so that the court can give the will legal recognition and allow the executor to deal with the assets of the deceased as instructed in his or her will. It ensures that the intentions of the deceased regarding how their assets should be distributed are respected.

The will of your loved one will state who is appointed to deal with their assets and this person is called the *“executor” if male, or the “executrix” if female. The executor is also the individual who is empowered to make an application to the court for a Grant of Probate.

*For ease of reading, we will refer to both the executor and the executrix by using the male pronoun in this article. 

How to Apply for a Grant of Probate

The process is started when the executor makes an application for a Grant of Probate with the Family Justice Courts. Such application should be made within 6 months from the deceased’s death.  If an application is made after 6 months, you will need to set out the reason for the delay in the application.

You will need to have ready the original will and the original death certificate prior to filing an application. You will then need to make an appointment with a lawyer to make certified true copies of these documents.

A “certified true copy” of a document means that the original has been presented to a lawyer who inspects it, makes a photocopy of the original and then stamps the photocopy to say that this version matches the original. This is done so that you can retain the original for safe-keeping while also making sure the copy is accurate.

These certified true copies will be used when submitting your application to the court. The deceased’s original will, however, will need to be inspected by the court for verification of authenticity and will be returned to you after this check is completed. You will then need to prepare the following for filing with the court:

  • Ex parte Originating Summons
  • Statement of Probate
  • Caveat search report
  • Probate search report
  • Administration Oath
  • Supporting Affidavit
  • Schedule of Assets

You can find details on this entire process and how to prepare these documents in our other article on how to apply for a Grant of Probate in Singapore.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Grant of Probate?

If your loved one’s estate is valued at $3 million or less, the making of this application is estimated to cost up to $570. These fees cover the cost of carrying out searches, making certified true copies and court filing fees for the documents mentioned above. Fees also vary depending on the number of applicants and pages involved.

A rejection fee of $5 per document is payable if documents are rejected. Documents are generally rejected when it is deemed incomplete or there is missing/incorrect information. For example, if the death certificate is not attached, the Supporting Affidavit is submitted unsigned or if the caveat and probate search reports are outdated.

If you choose to engage a probate lawyer, their legal fees for work done will also need to be accounted for when considering starting an application. The amount of legal fees chargeable will depend on what the lawyer’s hourly rate is and how much time is spent working on your matter.

A lawyer who specialises or has more experience in probate work will likely need to spend less time on straightforward applications and may therefore be able to offer you efficient service even though they may charge a higher rate. A lawyer who does not have much experience may charge you a lower rate but may spend more time on research, where the cost of such time may be reflected in your bill.

You can refer to a more comprehensive guide to cost estimates for your application in our guide to probate fees in Singapore.

Alternatives to Applying for a Grant of Probate

There are, however, alternatives available aside from the executor applying for a Grant of Probate to administer the deceased’s estate. If the value of the estate is below $50,000, you can apply to the Public Trustee to administer the deceased’s estate instead.

The Public Trustee is a government body that acts as a trustee of the estate by ensuring that the assets are distributed to the rightful beneficiaries.

There are some situations where the Public Trustee cannot act and these are:

  • When a court application for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration has already been filed. There should not be a duplication of applications to the court of the same nature.
  • There are conflicting claims to the estate or disputes between the beneficiaries
  • The estate has outstanding debts or liabilities
  • The deceased had shares or other interest in either local or foreign unlisted companies
  • The deceased was a partner, a sole proprietor or had an interest in a firm or other business
  • The deceased was the sole owner of a HDB flat and a child is eligible to inherit the whole or part of the flat
  • There are pending legal proceedings which involve the deceased
  • There are insurance policies where one or more people have been nominated as beneficiaries
  • There are trust bank accounts opened with a child
  • There are commercial vehicles involved, taxis for example

If none of the above-listed situations apply, you can proceed to make an online application for the Public Trustee to administer the deceased’s estate monies. You can make the application via the Public Trustee Office’s E-Services website.

In general, the documents that will need to be presented for the application are the birth, marriage and death certificates of the deceased as well as of the beneficiaries, where applicable. Once you file your application online, a case officer will be assigned to your matter and will advise you on any errors in your application and next steps.

If your application is successful, the Public Trustee will distribute the deceased’s assets in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act for non-Muslims and in accordance with the Administration of Muslim Law Act for Muslims. The estate will be administered in approximately 4 weeks once your application has been successfully processed.

What If the Deceased Did Not Leave a Will Behind?

If you are in a situation where the deceased did not leave a will behind, the correct route would be to apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration instead. In such cases, the court will typically grant the Letters of Administration to the deceased’s spouse and/or next-of-kin. The decision of who shall be granted the power to deal with the estate ultimately lies with the court as the court has the discretion to grant any one or more person.

Guidance on the application procedure can be found in our article on applying for a Grant of Letters of Administration in Singapore.

Once the Letters of Administration have been granted, the distribution of the estate’s property is done among the persons entitled to succeed beneficially to that property following the rules in the Intestate Succession Act.

Do You Need to Engage a Lawyer to Apply for a Grant of Probate?

While you can apply for a Grant of Probate or for a Grant of Letters of Administration on your own, engaging a probate lawyer to do this on your behalf is also another option.

You should think about the time that you have available to set aside in order to research what documents need to be prepared, how to prepare them and how to make the application, the cost of making the application on your own versus the cost of engaging a probate lawyer, and your confidence in handling the application.

Depending on the complexity of your matter, engaging a probate lawyer can save you time and from the stress of worrying about whether you have submitted the relevant documents correctly.

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  4. Managing a Loved One's Estate After Their Death in Singapore
  5. Applying for a Grant of Probate in Singapore
  6. Intestacy: Applying for Letters of Administration in Singapore
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