Inheriting a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat can be complicated and confusing. Many factors influence the process. Two important factors are whether the deceased had a valid will and whether the HDB flat has other owners. It could also make a difference if you already own property or another HDB flat.
Another scenario to consider is when you are the co-owner of an HDB flat, and the other owner passes away. You need to understand HDB inheritance rules and the implications on your ownership to organise and protect your affairs.
This article will discuss inheritance law around HDB flats and answer some of your questions.
Religion and HDB inheritance
Religion may affect the inheritance of HDB flats. The laws vary for Muslims and non-Muslims.
If the deceased is Muslim and there is no will, the flat will be dealt with under Syariah Law Faraid.
If there is a will, the owner can only bequeath 1/3rd of the property. The court will distribute the remaining 2/3rd of the interest in the flat, according to Faraid.
If the owner is non-Muslim and there is no will, the ownership of the HDB flat will be dealt with under the Intestate Succession Act. The Act defines how HDB ownership is dealt with without a will. A relative or a beneficiary can approach the court to be appointed as the trustee to oversee the process.
If there is a will, the will must be proved and executed under probate. The appointed trustee or executor will oversee the process following the Probate and Administration Act.
Types of ownership and HDB inheritance
It might be easier to refer to specific scenarios to explain how types of ownership affect HDB Inheritance.
If you are a non-Muslim sole owner of the flat and have no will, the flat will be sold and the proceeds divided between your spouse and your children. Your spouse will get 50%, and the remaining 50% will be divided equally among your children.
If you have no surviving spouse or surviving parents but have children, they will inherit the flat in equal portions.
If you are not married and have no children, but your parents are still alive, they will inherit the flat in equal portions.
If you are single with no living family, the flat will go back to the government.
The situation can be more complicated if the flat is co-owned. There are two types of co-ownership. First, it is essential to establish if the flat is owned under a joint tenancy or tenancy-in-common.
A joint tenancy means all the co-owners have an equal share in the flat. If one of the co-owners passes away, their interest is automatically passed to the remaining eligible owners. The co-owner must be a Singapore citizen or a permanent resident, and at least 21 years old to be eligible.
It does not matter if the deceased had a will or not. A joint tenancy will override the will.
Under a tenancy-in-common, each owner has a separate interest in the HDB flat. These days, this is the most common scenario when the current generation obtain HDB flats.
If one of the owners passes away, their share of the ownership is transferred based on inheritance laws. It will not automatically transfer to the remaining owners.
If there is a will, it will be distributed to the beneficiaries as set out in the will. If there is no will, the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act will apply to the deceased’s share in the ownership.
The process of HDB inheritance
There are several issues to consider when one of the owners of an HDB flat passes away. This is just a brief overview of the process. The beneficiaries should engage a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure compliance with all the inheritance processes.
If a joint tenancy owner passes away, the remaining owner must lodge a Notice of Death with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). This can be done with the help of the Housing and Development Board or directly at the SLA. When lodging the Notice of Death, the remaining owner must include all the required documents, including the Death Certificate. The Notice of Death must comply with all the legal requirements. It must be typed, printed, and witnessed by a witness at least 21 years old.
If the deceased owned the property under a tenancy-in-common, the deceased’s family should approach a lawyer to obtain a Grant of Probate.
If the deceased died without a will, a lawyer must apply to the court for a Grant of Letters of Administration. After obtaining the legal authority from the court to manage the estate, the executor or administrator must register their legal right to do so.
The application must include original copies of the Grant of Letters of Administration or the Grant of Probate, as well as the will.
The original Syariah Court Inheritance Certificate must be included in the application process for Muslim estates.
After complying with all the requirements, the interest in the HDB flat can be transferred to the new owners.
What if the beneficiary already owns private property?
Suppose the beneficiary of the deceased already owns private property. In that case, it will depend on the date the inherited HDB flat was bought by the deceased.
If the deceased bought the flat before 30 August 2010, the beneficiary may keep both the private property and the HDB flat. There are conditions, however:
- the beneficiary must be eligible to own an HDB flat; and
- the beneficiary and their family must live in the HDB flat.
If the deceased bought the flat on or after 30 August 2010, the beneficiary may only keep one of the properties.
- If the beneficiary decides to keep the HDB flat, they must live in it and sell the private property within six months.
- If the beneficiary decides to keep the private property, they must sell the HDB flat within six months (if the minimum occupation period is completed). If the minimum occupation period is not completed yet, the HDB officer will assist the beneficiaries.
What if the beneficiary already owns an HDB flat?
A person can only own an interest in one HDB flat at a time. If the beneficiary already owns an interest in an HDB flat, they will have to sell their interest in one of the two HDB flats. This applies even if you only have partial ownership in an HDB flat.
- If the beneficiary decides to keep the inherited HDB flat, they must sell the other HDB flat within six months from inheriting the HDB flat. The beneficiary must be eligible to own the inherited flat, i.e., an immediate family member of the deceased and at least 21 years old.
- If the beneficiary decides to keep their existing HDB flat, they need to sell the inherited HDB flat within six months. If the minimum occupation period has not been met, the beneficiary will have to approach the HDB to assist before the flat can be sold.
What if the beneficiary already owns commercial property?
The beneficiary can keep the HDB flat provided that the commercial property does not include a residential component.
What can go wrong?
If everything relating to HDB ownership is done according to the letter of the law, the inheritance process should proceed without too many significant issues. However, many families have informal arrangements about who pays the mortgage. Sometimes the owner on paper is not the one paying the mortgage.
Beneficial ownership of the flat might be very different to the name on paper. In some inheritance situations, the one paying the mortgage might have to prove payments to protect their interest in the property. Proving payment could be easy if you used your CPF to pay the mortgage but using other forms of income might be tricky.
Ong Chai Koon and others v Ong Chai Soon  SGHC is an excellent example of how complicated HDB ownership amongst siblings can be. Although the case did not specifically deal with inheritance, it shows how difficult it can be to prove who paid the mortgage.
Inheritance may cause a lot of conflict amongst surviving family members or co-owners. If you have specific wishes about the inheritance of your HDB flat, it is essential to draw up a will stipulating your wishes. Without a valid will, your interest in your HDB flat might end up with a person who is not your first choice.
If you own an HDB flat, you should consult with a lawyer who is knowledgeable about inheritance law to explain HDB inheritance to you.
As a co-owner of an HDB flat, you should ensure that you understand the rules around inheritance so that you can protect your rights. It is important to understand the law of succession and intestate succession and its application to HDB property.
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Frequently asked questions
Can a minor inherit a HDB flat?
Yes, a minor can inherit a HDB flat under the deceased’s final will or under section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act if there is no will. While a minor has the capacity to hold land, a minor or child under 21 years old does not have the legal capacity to contract in any Sale and Purchase of any land (see section 35(4)(a) of the Civil Law Act). As such, the surviving parent or guardian named in the will may manage the minor’s inheritance until the child turns 21 years old. The HDB flat (or the minor beneficiary’s share in the sale proceeds) may also be held on trust by the Executors or Administrators of the deceased’s estate.
Can I inherit my parents' HDB flat?
Many factors influence the process of inheriting a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat.
If one parent predeceases the other
For a start, what lay at the heart of the matter is the manner of holding for the flat:
- If both parents are registered as joint tenants in the title of their HDB flat, the surviving parent will become the sole absolute owner of the flat upon the death of the other. In other words, the right of survivorship prevails and your deceased parent cannot bequeath the HDB flat to you through a will.
- If your non-Muslim deceased parent is the sole owner of the HDB flat, you can inherit the flat (or part thereof) if you are named as a beneficiary in the deceased’s final will. If there is no will, the surviving spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the deceased’s HDB flat and other assets (in accordance with section 7, rule 2 of the Intestate Succession Act) and the other one-half shall be distributed equally to and among the children (in accordance with section 7, rule 3 of the Intestate Succession Act).
If both parents pass away
If both parents die in a common accident or a catastrophic event, you can inherit your parents’ interest in their HDB flat under a valid will or under section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act if there is no will. As a person can only own an interest in one HDB flat at a time, you will have to sell your interest in 1 of the 2 flats if you already own another HDB flat (regardless partial or sole ownership). For Muslim estate, the HDB flat and other assets will be distributed according to faraid (Muslim law) and more on this will be elaborated further below.
What happens to a HDB flat when it's owner passes away?
Much depends on whether the HDB flat has other owners and whether the deceased had executed a valid will. Aside from sole ownership, there are 2 types of co-ownership and they are joint tenancy and tenancy-in-common. Under tenancy-in-common, each co-owner holds a separate and distinct interest in the HDB flat. Section 53(1) of the Land Titles Act provides the presumption that registered co-owners hold the property as joint tenants, unless there are words of creation or severance indicating tenancy-in-common.
The consequence of joint tenancy is the right of survivorship. Under section 114 of the Land Titles Act, when one joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenant takes the entire estate. In other words, the deceased’s interest in the HDB flat will simply cease to exist upon his or her death and devolves to the other joint tenant without the need for a will. The right of survivorship prevails over succession laws and extends to Muslim estate (see Shafeeg bin Salim Talib  SGCA 11 at paragraphs  to ). Consequently, the deceased cannot will his or her share in the HDB flat to other beneficiary.
Sole ownership or Tenancy-in-common
- If the deceased dies as a non-Muslim and without a will, the Intestate Succession Act (ISA) applies and the deceased’s assets (including his or her share in the HDB flat) will be distributed according to the priority stated in section 7 of the ISA. A relative or a beneficiary can apply to the court to be appointed as an Administrator of the deceased’s estate. A Letter of Administration may be granted to the widowed spouse or the next-of-kin. If no such person applies, it may be granted to creditors such as banks.
- If the deceased dies as a non-Muslim and with a valid will, the deceased’s HDB flat and other assets will be distributed according to the final will. At least one Executor must be appointed in the deceased’s will, failing which an application for the grant of a Letter of Administration (with the will annexed) must be taken out.
- If the deceased dies as a Muslim, the Intestate Succession Act will not apply (see section 2 of ISA). The deceased’s HDB flat and other assets will be distributed according to faraid (Muslim law) in line with section 112 of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). Even if there is a valid will, the deceased can only bequeath up to one-third of his or her share in the HDB flat. The other two-third of the deceased’s share in the HDB flat will be distributed based on the share value of his or her legal heirs, as specified in the Inheritance Certificate issued by the Syariah Court
How long does it take to sell a HDB flat after a death?
A surviving joint tenant will become the sole absolute owner of the HDB flat upon the other joint tenant’s death and after lodging a Notice of Death with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). The surviving joint tenant may then sell the HDB flat anytime on the open market if he or she wishes to, subject to the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) and other requirements stipulated by HDB that may have to be met before the flat can be sold off.
For other manners of holding, if there is a valid will, the HDB flat will automatically vest in the Executor named in the deceased’s will and the Executor’s powers are derived from the will (see Lee Han Tiong v Tay Yok Swee  SGHC 176 at paragraph ). However, the Executor must still apply for and obtain a Grant of Probate from the court to deal with the deceased’s estate to fruition (see Re Ong Soon Chuan  SGHC 125 at paragraph ) and the process may take time.
If there is no will, sections 37(1) and 37(4) of the Probate and Administration Act (PAA) provide that the deceased’s real and personal estate (including the HDB flat) will vest in the Public Trustee between the death and the grant of a Letter of Administration. Applying for a Grant of Letter of Administration is lengthier and more complicated than applying for a Grant of Probate.
Much will also depend on whether there is a caveat lodged against the HDB flat under section 33 of the Probate and Administration Act. A caveat will only be lifted if the creditors and/or beneficial owners are satisfied with the undertaking from the Administrator or Executor (as the case may be) to settle the estate debts and liabilities. Until then, the court will not issue the Grant of Letter of Administration or Grant of Probate. This means the HDB flat cannot be sold and the sale proceeds cannot be distributed to the beneficiaries until the issue in dispute has been settled. This may take a longer time if the contentious probate is referred to the courts for resolution.
The need to get your estate planning right from the start before your death, as well as the need to ensure compliance with all the inheritance processes when a loved one passes away make it all the more important to engage a specialist lawyer.