Settling a Loved One’s Estate Without Travelling to Singapore

notarized will document

We often seek solace in family or friends when a loved one passes away. This time of grief can be further complicated if you have been appointed an executor or administrator (collectively, a personal representative) of your loved one’s estate.

Performing your duties as a personal representative of a person who has assets in Singapore can be complicated enough if you are in Singapore. However, it can be even more difficult if you have to do it from overseas because you are unable to travel to Singapore, whether due to frail health, border closures or other reasons.

If you are a personal representative located overseas, I hope you will find this article useful. It will examine:

Your Initial Considerations

You may be wondering whether managing your loved one’s estate from overseas may be easier. Here are some factors to consider.

First, there may be additional costs when settling an estate from overseas. These costs manifest in at least two ways:

  1. Courier fees; and
  2. Appointing a donee through a power of attorney.

Some documents will require your physical signature, and may hence need to be couriered to you, incurring courier fees. Further, some organisations require you, as the personal representative of the deceased, to be physically present in Singapore to receive your loved one’s liquidated assets, such as his or her shares in a company or insurance policies. If you are not in Singapore, you will need to appoint a donee (i.e., any trusted person, including a lawyer) through a power of attorney to receive these assets on your behalf. This also incurs additional costs.

Should such legal costs account for a substantial portion of your loved one’s estate, it may be more cost-effective for you to travel to Singapore to settle the estate instead.

You should also check whether another person in Singapore can settle the estate. The deceased may have appointed more than one executor in the will, for example. If there is another executor present in Singapore, he or she can take over your executorial duties and you need not return to Singapore.

However, you will have to renounce your executorship before a notary public or a Singapore consulate officer in your location. Your renunciation will be filed together with the application for the Grant of Probate in Singapore.

Similarly for cases where the deceased passed away without a will, if you are an eligible administrator, you may also renounce your right to be an administrator of the estate.

Lastly, you need to determine where your loved one was domiciled. This is important because inheritance matters are settled according to the laws of your loved one’s place of domicile.

Domicile is a legal concept that connects a person to a legal system and governs his or her legal relationships. For example, a British national living in Singapore may be domiciled in Singapore and have legal relationships, such as between a testator and executor, governed by Singapore’s law.

Everyone has a domicile but cannot have more than one domicile at a time. The relevant types of domiciles are:

  • Domicile of origin. Domicile of origin is acquired at birth and applies until the person      acquires a domicile of choice (see next point). A child follows the father’s domicile of origin if the child is legitimate and born while the father is alive. Otherwise, the child will follow the mother’s domicile of origin.
  • Domicile of choice. A domicile of choice is acquired by a person’s voluntary physical residence in a certain country and the intention to reside in that country indefinitely. The domicile of choice is lost if either condition is not satisfied. In such cases, a person’s domicile reverts to their domicile of origin.

How to Settle the Affairs of Someone Who Passed Away in Singapore

Applying for Letters of Representation (LOR), the collective name for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration, for a deceased who passed away in Singapore, is broadly outlined below. More details can be found in separate articles on applying for a Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration.

  • Filing the main application. This involves the filing of the documents necessary for the main application, such as the ex parte originating summons, the particulars of the deceased as well as the details of the death, the results of your caveat search and the schedule of assets. Caveat searches are searches for any challenges to your settling of your loved one’s estate, while a schedule of assets is a list of assets that forms your loved one’s estate.
  • Filing the supporting documents. The supporting documents include the certified true copy of the will (if any), the administration oath, the death certificate, a supporting affidavit and a schedule of assets if you had not submitted it with the main application.
  • Issuance of the LOR. If the court is satisfied with your application, it will issue you the LOR. You may then settle your loved one’s estate according to the will or Singapore’s intestacy laws.

Do note that additional steps are required if you, as the personal representative, are not residing in Singapore. These additional steps depend on where the deceased had been domiciled.

If the deceased is domiciled in Singapore

There are two options for you if the deceased is domiciled in Singapore:

  • Applying for the LOR yourself. There is no change from the process outlined above. However, you may need the relevant documents couriered to your country of residence for your signature. You may also encounter problems with organisations requiring your physical presence in Singapore before handing over the deceased’s liquidated assets to you. As noted earlier, appointing a donee through a power of attorney to receive the liquidated assets on your behalf is a workaround.
  • Appointing a donee to act on your behalf. It may be more convenient to appoint a donee through a power of attorney to handle the entire probate and administration process on your behalf from start to finish. This includes making the application, signing the necessary documents, receiving the liquidated assets and distributing the estate according to your loved one’s will or Singapore’s intestacy laws. If the appointed donee is not familiar with the probate process, you may also wish to engage a probate lawyer to liaise with the donee. A lawyer will be able to guide the donee through the process of obtaining an LOR, such as how the necessary documents are to be prepared.

If the deceased is not domiciled in Singapore

If the deceased is not domiciled in Singapore, your loved one’s estate will be settled according to the inheritance laws of your loved one’s country of domicile.

In this case, you may still make an application for an LOR in Singapore to settle the estate. However, you will require an Affidavit of Foreign Law (AFL). An AFL is a written testimony provided by a qualified legal practitioner in that country explaining that country’s inheritance laws. For example, an AFL from a legal practitioner in Germany is required for someone who passed away in Singapore while domiciled in Germany.

Once you have obtained an AFL, the process is largely similar to applying for an LOR in Singapore. You may submit the LOR application yourself along with the AFL, or appoint a donee to act on your behalf.

How to Settle the Affairs of Someone Who Died Overseas but With Assets in Singapore

Even if your loved one passed away overseas, you will need an LOR to be able to handle any of their assets in Singapore. The process of obtaining an LOR will also differ depending on where your loved one was domiciled.

If the deceased passed away overseas while domiciled in a Commonwealth or gazetted country 

Commonwealth countries refer to former British colonies that have gained independence, such as Singapore, Australia, Malaysia or New Zealand. It also extends to Hong Kong.

If your loved one has assets in Singapore but passed away overseas while domiciled in a Commonwealth or gazetted country (that is not Singapore), you have two options: obtain a fresh grant of LOR or reseal a foreign grant of LOR.

Obtaining a fresh grant of LOR in Singapore remains an option even if you were issued a grant of LOR from the country of domicile. This is because a foreign grant of LOR may not be recognised by the Singapore courts and you will need the court’s permission, through a fresh grant, before you can settle assets located within Singapore.

The process of obtaining a fresh grant of LOR is the same as that of obtaining an LOR for a deceased who is not domiciled in Singapore. As outlined earlier, you will require an AFL from the country of domicile and will have to make the application for an LOR yourself, or through a donee acting on your behalf.

Resealing a foreign grant of LOR in Singapore may be simpler as you need not obtain an AFL. Resealing a foreign grant means that you are asking the courts to recognise a foreign grant of LOR and treat it as if it had been issued in Singapore.

The process of resealing a grant is similar to an application for a grant of LOR, with some minor differences in the required documents. You will need:

  • An original and certified true copy of the foreign grant of LOR and other related documents, such as the will and the schedule of assets.
  • Translated copies of the above documents if they are not in English.

The court will issue a memorandum of resealing if it is satisfied with your application. You may then administer your loved one’s estate according to the will or the intestacy laws of the country of domicile.

If the deceased passed away overseas while not domiciled in a Commonwealth or gazetted country

If your loved one passed away overseas while not domiciled in a Commonwealth or gazetted country, the main issue affecting how the estate is settled is whether your loved one had been domiciled in Singapore. This remains true regardless of your loved one’s nationality.

If your loved one had been domiciled in Singapore, how the estate is settled is the same as outlined earlier. You can apply for LOR yourself or appoint a donee through a power of attorney. This applies even if your loved one had not been a Singapore Citizen. The distribution of the estate will be in accordance with Singapore’s inheritance laws.

If your loved one had not been domiciled in Singapore, you will need to obtain an AFL and submit it along with your LOR application. You may also appoint a donee to act on your behalf. Regardless of your loved one’s nationality, his or her estate will be managed according to the inheritance laws of the country of domicile.

Inheritance matters are inherently stressful. You must navigate the complexities of probate matters in your time of loss, but this complexity is only compounded if you are based overseas and are not able to return to Singapore.

I have more than 13 years of experience helping Singaporeans, both at home and abroad, with their inheritance matters. This includes the drafting of the powers of attorney, applying for an LOR, and distributing a loved one’s estate without the personal representative having to travel to Singapore. This way, I can lighten your burden during your time of grief.

Do contact me and let me know how I can make the estate administration process easier for you.