An Executor’s Checklist to Executing a Will in Singapore
What is an Executor and What Does it Mean to be an Executor of a Will?
An executor of a will is a person who is responsible for administering the assets and carrying out the wishes of the deceased as outlined in his/her will.
Anyone can be appointed as an executor, as long as they are over 21 years old, not a bankrupt and is of sound mind.
The deceased may pick an executor whom he/she knows personally, or a professional executor like a lawyer or a trust company licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
How Many Executors am I Allowed to Appoint?
Typically, at least 1 executor is appointed, with another back-up executor (or more) in case the first executor passes away or declines his/her appointment.
There may be up to 4 executors appointed.
How Do I Know If I am Appointed as an Executor?
You may be aware of your appointment as an executor when the deceased drafted his/her will, informed you of his/her intention to appoint you as an executor of the will, and obtained your approval beforehand.
Another situation may be that you are informed by the deceased’s lawyer or a close family member, relative or friend, that you are an appointed executor.
When a person passes away and leaves behind a will, typically this person’s lawyer will read the will and establish who the will’s executor(s) are. From there, the lawyer will inform the executor(s) and find out whether they are willing to accept the appointment.
What if the will is not left with the deceased’s lawyer or a family member?
If the will is not left with the deceased’s lawyer or the family members and so you are unable to find the will, you may retrieve information on the will from the Wills Registry, if the deceased deposited the will there.
The lawyer or the deceased’s next-of-kin may conduct a “Search for Existing Will Record” in the Wills Registry to obtain information on the will.
You will need to produce the following documents to conduct the search:
- Identification documents (e.g. NRIC); and
- Death Certificate of the deceased
If you are the next-of-kin, you will additionally need to show proof of relationship. (Marriage certificate if you are the spouse, birth certificate if you are the parent/child).
I have been Appointed as the Executor of a Will. What Should I Do Now?
Once you are informed of your appointment, you have to decide whether or not to take up the executorship.
Since the duties of an executor may be relatively difficult and the process is rather lengthy, you may decide to reject the appointment and renounce your right to apply for probate.
Alternatively, if you choose to accept the appointment, you are required to complete the checklist below to execute the will.
The following infographic is a summarised checklist for executors. You may click on the image to open it in a new tab.
1. Read the will and understand the deceased’s instructions
To identify your responsibilities as an executor, you have to read the will and understand the instructions given to you by the deceased.
After understanding the instructions, you will be able to administer the deceased’s estate according to his/her wishes.
2. Make funeral arrangements
Next, you have to make funeral arrangements for the deceased as instructed in the will. You may claim the costs of the funeral arrangements from the deceased’s estate (see below).
3. Obtain all relevant documents
Subsequently, you have to obtain all relevant documents that are needed for the application of the Grant of Probate in the next stage (see below).
Some documents include, but are not limited to:
- Originating summons, Statement, supporting affidavit. (these are court documents to be filed when applying for a Grant of Probate)
- Results of any probate caveat and applications searches
- Schedule of Assets
- Administration oaths, affidavits and consents of co-administrators or renunciations filed (if any)
- Certified true copy of the Death Certificate or Order of Court for presumption of death of the deceased
- Certified true copy of the last will and codicil (amendments to last will, if any), including any translation (if any) certified by a lawyer
- Foreign grant for resealing a Foreign Grant of Probate (if any).
- Inheritance Certificate (for Muslims)
- Any other supporting documentation.
4. Apply for a Grant of Probate
Why do I have to apply for a Grant of Probate?
As an executor, you also need to apply to the court for a Grant of Probate, to be legally recognised as the executor of the deceased’s estate.
The Grant of Probate is an important court order to obtain, as it empowers you as an executor to carry out the instructions in the will. This includes the distribution of the deceased’s assets to his/her specified beneficiaries.
Determining the deceased’s assets and liabilities
An important step in applying for the Grant of Probate is to determine the total assets and liabilities of the deceased, in order to submit the Schedule of Assets to the court.
The Schedule of Assets is a supporting document required to apply for a Grant of Probate.
You should identify, locate and make a list of the assets and liabilities (e.g. debts/taxes) of the deceased, including but not limited to real estate (e.g. HDB flats, private property) and personal property (e.g. bank accounts, stocks and shares, insurance policies, precious jewellery).
You may do so by looking at the assets stated in the will, and also by looking at any bank statements or financial statements for any unpaid amounts like interest, dividends and any other form of income.
Do I need a lawyer to apply for a Grant of Probate?
You are not required to engage a probate lawyer to apply for a Grant of Probate. You may make the application yourself via the counters at the eLitigation Service Bureaus.
More information on the locations of the Service Bureaus can be found here.
However, since the steps involved in applying for a Grant of Probate may be complex and involves a large number of documents, it is advisable to engage a probate lawyer to assist you in the process.
A lawyer will be able to file the application in a more efficient way which could help you to simplify the probate process.
To apply for a Grant of Probate, there are several documents (as mentioned above) to be submitted. Once these documents are reviewed, the application will be approved and you may apply to extract the Grant of Probate.
5. Pay off the deceased’s debts, taxes and funeral, testamentary and administration expenses
Debts and taxes
If the deceased’s estate is solvent, which means that the deceased has more assets than liabilities, you may use his/her estate to pay off the debts and taxes.
For instance, according to section 58 of the Income Tax Act, the executor has to ensure that the deceased’s estate is used to pay off his income tax liabilities.
However, if the deceased’s estate is insolvent (i.e. the deceased’s liabilities exceed his/her assets), the deceased’s funeral, testamentary and administration expenses shall have priority over any debts or taxes to be paid.
Thereafter, the order of repayment of any other debts will be done according to the priorities of debts provided for in the law of bankruptcy.
For more information, please refer to our article on paying off debts of the deceased.
Claiming for Funeral, Testamentary and Administration Expenses
According to section 67 of the Probate and Administration Act, if the deceased’s estate is worth more than $50,000, you may claim from the estate a reimbursement of funeral expenses, including all reasonable expenses of subsequent religious ceremonies performed for the deceased.
If the deceased’s estate is worth $50,000 or less, the Public Trustee can administer the reimbursement of funeral expenses. The maximum amount you may claim for funeral expenses is $6,000.
Similarly, you may claim for any reasonable testamentary and administration expenses from the deceased’s estate. These expenses are those that are needed for you to perform your duty as an executor properly, and includes costs for any action taken to administer the estate.
As mentioned above, if the deceased’s estate is insolvent, then these expenses will take priority over all other debts.
6. Give notice of intention to distribute the deceased’s assets
In distributing the deceased’s assets, an executor has the duty to ensure that all beneficiaries, creditors and any other persons with an interest in the estate are paid according to the will.
Thus, although not compulsory, it is wise to advertise a notice of your intention to distribute the deceased’s assets in the Government Gazette or any other avenue like the newspaper, to ensure that everyone is paid accordingly.
This advertisement also serves as a notice to inviting any other persons that may have a claim on the deceased’s assets to come forward with their claim within 2 months.
This advertisement protects you as an executor as you may distribute the assets accordingly once the grace period is up, and you will not be liable if anyone later comes forward with a claim to the estate.
7. Distribute the deceased’s assets according to the instructions in the will
Once you have the Grant of Probate from the court and upon expiry of the notice period above, you may proceed to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries or their respective guardians, according to the terms of the will.
The court expects you to administer the estate within a reasonable time of the deceased’s death. Generally, this would be within 6 months of the death.
8. Keep an account of the administration of estate
As an executor, you are under a fiduciary duty to keep accounts and allow the beneficiaries to inspect them as requested.
Before you distribute the assets, you are also required to submit the accounts for the beneficiaries’ perusal and approval.
The purpose of keeping accounts is not only to keep the beneficiaries in the loop as to the administration of the estate, but also to ensure that the executor is performing his/her duties properly.
There are no fixed rules on how the accounts should be kept. However, they generally should contain proper, complete and accurate justification and documentation for any actions taken as executor.
For example, the accounts may include information as to the current status of, and past transactions that relate to each asset received by the executor, according to the Schedule of Assets.
Will I be Paid as an Executor?
It is not required for the deceased to remunerate the executor for managing and distributing the assets under the will.
However, according to section 66 of the Probate and Administration Act, the court may at its discretion, pay the executor a commission of up to 5% on the value of the assets collected.
Being appointed as, and accepting the role of an executor typically comes with many responsibilities. The steps involved in performing the duties of an executor may also be lengthy and complex.
Hence, you may wish to get in touch with one of our experienced probate lawyers to assist you in this process.
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