Can the Public Trustee Administer Your Loved One’s Estate?

Last updated on December 18, 2020

man signing estate papers in consultation with woman

The death of a loved one can be a difficult situation for anyone. The stress that comes with dealing with a loved one passing away may also be heightened once it becomes time to manage the deceased’s estate.

In such a situation, it may be more convenient to have the Public Trustee administer a deceased loved one’s estate than to administer it yourself. This article aims to provide information on having a deceased loved one’s estate administered by the Public Trustee.

This article will cover:

Who is a Public Trustee and What Does It Mean to have the Estate Administered by Them?

A Public Trustee is a government body that may act as a trustee of the estate of a deceased upon request by the deceased’s next-of-kin (subject to certain conditions mentioned below).

The Public Trustee makes sure that assets of the deceased are subsequently distributed to the beneficiaries in accordance with the law. In Singapore, this specific government body is the Public Trustee’s Office under the Ministry of Law.

If a Public Trustee were to administer the estate of the deceased, then this government body will be authorised to become the administrator of the estate as if it had been granted the authority through a Grant of Letters of Administration.

A Grant of Letters of Administration is usually applied by an administrator, such as a next-of-kin or a beneficiary, to administer the deceased’s estate where he/she did not leave behind a will. If the deceased left behind a will, then a Grant of Probate will be applied by an executor named in the will to administer the deceased’s estate.

Just like an administrator authorised through a Grant of Letters of Administration, the Public Trustee will follow the relevant laws, such as the Intestate Succession Act or Muslim intestate laws, when administering the estate of a person who passed away without a will.

If the Public Trustee is administering the estate of a deceased person who had left a will, the Public Trustee will still administer the estate according to such intestacy laws, notwithstanding the instructions in the deceased’s will. This is unlike how an executor authorised through a Grant of Probate will administer the deceased’s estate according to the provisions of the will instead of according to intestacy laws.

When can the Public Trustee Not Administer an Estate?

There are certain situations where the Public Trustee cannot assist in administering a deceased person’s estate, as stated below:

  • When the estate is worth more than $50,000 (this amount does not include the debts of the deceased);
  • When a court application for a Grant of Letters of Administration or Grant of Probate has already been filed;
  • When there are conflicting claims to the estate, which include disputes among the potential beneficiaries;
  • When the estate has outstanding debts or liabilities;
  • When the deceased has shares in unlisted companies, either foreign or local;
  • When the deceased was a sole proprietor, a partner or had interest in a firm or business;
  • When the deceased was the owner of an HDB flat and a child is eligible to inherit the whole or a part of it;
    • However, the Public Trustee may be able to administer a deceased’s share in an HDB flat if this share falls within the $50,000 limitation (alongside other assets in the estate) on a case-by-case basis.
  • When the deceased had been involved in pending lawsuits;
  • When there are insurance policies in which one or more nominees have also been nominated as beneficiaries;
  • When the estate includes trust bank accounts opened with a child; and
  • When the estate includes commercial vehicles (such as taxis).

Given the limitations above, if the Public Trustee cannot administer your loved one’s estate, then it would be advisable to apply for a Grant of Probate if the deceased had left a will, or a Grant of Letters of Administration if there is no will.

What are the Assets of the Deceased Usually Administered by the Public Trustee?

The following are assets of the estate of the deceased that you may expect the Public Trustee to administer:

  • Money in banks or other financial institutions in Singapore;
  • Shares listed in the Singapore Exchange;
  • Fully paid-up vehicles, but which are not commercial vehicles;
  • Salaries owed to the deceased but not yet paid at the time of death;
  • Items in a safe-deposit box; and
  • Money paid as government compensation and/or from the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme.

How Do You Apply to have the Public Trustee Administer the Estate of a Deceased Person in Singapore?

Applying to the Public Trustee for the administration of a deceased loved one’s estate is quite convenient. You only need to apply online via the Public Trustee Office E-Services website.

You will need to have a SingPass account in order to access the application form and if you don’t have one yet, you may apply for one here. If you are ineligible for a SingPass account, then you may apply for an individual account through the Public Trustee Office E-Services website.

There are several documents that need to be submitted in order for the Public Trustee to proceed with the administration of your loved one’s estate. These include the:

  • Death Certificate of the deceased;
  • Birth Certificate of the deceased;
  • NRIC, passport, social security card (for US nationals), election card (for Indian nationals) of all beneficiaries;
  • Marriage certificate if the deceased had been married;
  • Birth certificates of potential beneficiaries such as children or siblings of the deceased;
  • Final order of divorce if the deceased had previously been married;
  • Death certificate of previous spouse if the deceased had been a widow or widower;
  • A declaration or testimonial from proper authorities giving details of the legal heirs of the deceased (if the deceased had not been domiciled in Singapore); and
  • A Certificate of Inheritance from the Syariah Court (for a deceased Muslim domiciled in Singapore).

An updated and more comprehensive list of documents to be submitted where the deceased is a non-Muslim is found here, while a similar list for where the deceased is a Muslim may be found here.

If you are unable to obtain some of the required documents for submission, you may inform the case officer assigned to you and you will be advised on the best way forward.

How will the Public Trustee Administer the Estate of the Deceased?

Administration and distribution by the Public Trustee of the estate of the deceased differs based on whether the deceased had been a non-Muslim or Muslim.

If the deceased had been a non-Muslim

The estate of a non-Muslim domiciled in Singapore who had passed away without a will is administered and distributed by the Public Trustee in accordance with certain rules in the Intestate Succession Act.

Under these rules, the legal heirs and beneficiaries who are entitled to a share in the estate, as well as the amount of this share, is dependent upon whether the deceased had left behind a spouse and/or children, or other family members/relatives.

For example, if the deceased is survived by a spouse but has no children, and the deceased’s parents are no longer alive, then the Public Trustee will distribute the entire of the deceased’s estate to the deceased’s spouse.

On the other hand, if the deceased is survived by a spouse and children, then the Public Trustee will distribute half of the deceased’s estate to the spouse, while the children get the other half, divided amongst them in equal portions.

Read our other article for a more detailed discussion on how the estate of a deceased person is distributed if she/he died without a will.

If the deceased had been a Muslim 

On the other hand, the Public Trustee will administer the estate of a deceased Muslim who had not left a will behind based on Muslim intestate law or faraid. This is found under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA).

The legal principles applicable under the AMLA depends on the school of faith or madhab that the deceased subscribed to, and whether or not she/he was Malay. A Certificate of Inheritance to be issued by the Syariah Court will list down the lawful beneficiaries, as well as their respective inheritances.

You may read our other article for a more detailed discussion on Muslim inheritance law in Singapore.

Does the Public Trustee Charge a Fee for Administering the Deceased’s Estate?

Yes. A minimum fee of $15 is required to be paid to the Public Trustee for the administration of your deceased loved one’s estate. The total fees expected to be charged based on the value of the estate are shown below:

Value of Estate Fee
For the first $5,000 6.5%
For the next $2,000 6%
For the next $3,000 4.25%
For the next $10,000 2.75%
For the next $30,000 2.25%

It must be noted that fees charged by the Public Trustee include GST and cannot be waived. These fees will be deducted from the deceased’s estate.

How Long Might the Public Trustee Take to Distribute the Assets of the Deceased?

The assets are expected to be distributed to beneficiaries within 4 weeks from date of receipt of full documentation submitted to the Public Trustee by the beneficiaries, or from the date on which the Public Trustee received the deceased’s estate monies, whichever is later.

Can You Claim Reimbursement of Funeral Expenses If the Deceased’s Estate is being Administered by the Public Trustee?

Yes, although the maximum allowable amount of funeral reimbursement claim is $6,000. While both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries are allowed to claim reimbursement from the deceased’s estate, the non-beneficiary is required to show copies of receipts that prove that she/he had incurred expenses.

In order to consider a claim for reimbursement of funeral expenses, a Declaration Form for funeral expenses must be submitted via the Public Trustee Office E-Services website. This form has to be submitted alongside all the other required documents for applying to have the Public Trustee administer the deceased’s estate, as mentioned above.

Depending on your situation, applying to have the Public Trustee administer your deceased loved one’s estate might be a suitable option.

The application can easily be done online on your own and having the Public Trustee take the reins in distributing the estate, especially if the estate is small and there are no disputes amongst the beneficiaries, may also take away potential burdens to an already grieving family.

However, considering that there are certain conditions that need to be met before the Public Trustee can act on a request to administer your loved one’s estate, as well as documents that need to be submitted, it may be beneficial to obtain legal assistance before deciding on your next course of action.

An experienced probate lawyer can advise you on whether your loved one’s estate is eligible for being administered by the Public Trustee, or whether you should apply to court for a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration to administer the estate instead.

In addition, if you opt for the latter, hiring a probate lawyer would also be beneficial in assisting you with the handling of all relevant paperwork required to administer your loved one’s estate, instead of you having to manage this on your own.

You may get in touch with experienced probate lawyers in Singapore here.

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