8 legal requirements when a loved one dies in Singapore

The death of a loved one is an emotional and difficult event, but even while grieving, several things must be done after a loved one’s passing, including hiring a probate lawyer to take care of probate, and settling the deceased’s financial and legal matters.

When a death in the family occurs, there are 8 important legal things you need to do, from reporting the death to managing the estate and dealing with the inheritance.

  1. Obtain the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD).
  2. Register the death.
  3. Arrange for the funeral.
  4. Inform these organisations (including CPF Board).
  5. Check whether your loved one has left behind a Will.
  6. Apply for Probate and understand the duties of the Executor and how the assets – and in what proportion – are to be distributed to the lawful beneficiaries.
  7. Manage the estate and distribute the inheritance.
  8. Account to the beneficiaries and close the matter.

Please read on to understand more information around each of these steps.

1. Obtain the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD)

When someone dies in Singapore, the family members need to obtain the Certificate of Cause of Death. You need this document to obtain a Death Certificate, which is required for a burial or cremation.

How you get the Certificate of Cause of Death depends on whether your loved one passed away at home or in the hospital.

If the death occurred at home

If your loved one passed away at home, you need to call a doctor to certify the death. This can be your family doctor or a neighborhood GP. If you cannot find a doctor, you can call the police.

If the death was natural and occurred at home, you can get the doctor to certify the cause of death. The doctor issues the Certificate of Cause of Death. This allows you to apply for a death certificate required for you to carry out the funeral arrangements. If the cause of death was unknown or unnatural, the doctor will not issue the CCOD yet, and will instead refer the matter to the police.

If the death occurred in the hospital

If death happens in the hospital, the hospital doctor will certify the cause of death and issue the Certificate of Cause of Death.

2. Register the Death

All deaths in Singapore (regardless of citizenship) must be registered within 24 hours.

If the death occurred at a hospital, you can register the death there and obtain the Death Certificate. If it occurred at home, you could register at ICA or any police post.

3. Arrange the funeral

Most people will engage a funeral director to help with such arrangements. Your funeral director will find out which Town Council you belong to and get the permit from your Town Council if you wish to hold the funeral at a HDB void deck.

There are different types of funeral arrangements to consider, such as a burial or cremation. Naturally, you have to consider your loved one’s religious beliefs, preference and wishes as stated in the will (if any) when deciding on the funeral arrangements.

4. Inform the necessary organisations

  • Any employer – notify your loved one’s employer, and find out if there is any outstanding salary or payments due to your loved one.
  • Banks – notify the banks in which the deceased person held accounts. Consider what to do with any automatic monthly payments and GIRO deductions. Inform the credit card companies. The banks will only allow you to withdraw the deceased’s monies if you are the executor or administrator of the estate, and you can produce the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. See the paragraphs below on the critical importance of the probate process and how to go about getting probate from a probate lawyer.
  • Insurance companies –  most insurance companies will pay out a small amount upon production of the death certificate. The bulk of the insurance monies will only be paid out upon production of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.
  • CPF board – inform the CPF Board so that the Board can release the CPF monies to the rightful beneficiaries.

Additional note regarding CPF funds

If your loved one had made a CPF Nomination, his/her CPF savings would be distributed to the nominees according to the nomination form. The CPF Board will contact the nominees on the distribution of the CPF monies within 15 days from when the Board is notified of the death. However, if no nomination is made, the Public Trustee will handle CPF savings, other monies, or assets and distribute them to the deceased person’s family in accordance with intestacy laws.

The distribution of CPF monies includes the balances from the Ordinary Account, Special Account, MediSave Account and Retirement Account (if any). If your loved one did not make a CPF Nomination, your loved one’s CPF savings will be forwarded to the Public Trustee for distribution to the family according to intestacy laws or Muslim inheritance laws of Singapore.

5. Check whether a valid will was left behind

You will need to check whether the deceased person left a will behind. If the person left a will, the person named as the Executor would have to apply for a ‘Grant of Probate’ and become the executor of the deceased’s estate.

If the person did not leave behind a will, the closest family member(s) would have to apply for ‘Letters of Administration’ and become the deceased’s estate administrator.

6. Apply for Probate

You have now come to an important part of the legal process. Whether or not the deceased has left behind a will, your family needs to take charge of the deceased’s estate and distribute the assets to the lawful beneficiaries.

To do these things, you would need to engage a specialist probate lawyer to help you get probate. Probate is essential if the deceased has left behind assets to be distributed to beneficiaries.

What is Probate?

When a family member dies, somebody has to deal with their “estate”. In simple terms, a person’s estate is the assets owned by the person. These assets have to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Assets can be made up of the money, property, and possessions they had at the time of their death.

To deal with his or her estate or assets in Singapore, you must apply for a Grant of Probate (if there was a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there was no Will). To do this, you would need the assistance of a specialist probate lawyer.

If a valid will exists – apply for a Grant of Probate

If there is a valid will, there will be a person named as an executor in the will. The executor is someone named in the deceased’s will as a nominated person to distribute the deceased’s estate.

If the deceased left a will, the executor(s) will have to apply for a Grant of Probate and distribute the deceased’s assets according to the will.

With the executor having obtained the Grant of Probate, the executor will be able to approach financial institutions, government agencies, banks and other organisations to request access to the deceased’s assets.

What documents do you require when meeting a probate lawyer?

Before meeting with the probate lawyer, the executor should prepare and bring along:

  • the original death certificate of the deceased
  • the original will of the deceased
  • the executor’s identification documents (e.g. NRIC or passport)
  • a list of all the assets and liabilities owned by the deceased with supporting documents (e.g. bank statements, insurance policies, tax invoices etc.)
  • Muslim Inheritance Certificate from the Syariah Court (if applicable)

What is the process of applying for a Grant of Probate?

The executor named in the will has to apply to the court for a Grant of Probate. The executor will instruct a specialist probate lawyer to help them do this job.

If the deceased’s estate is valued at $5,000,000 and below, the executor will apply for the Grant of Probate to the Family Courts, however, if the deceased’s estate’s total value exceeds $5,000,000, the executor will have to apply to the Family Division of the High Court.

It is not simple to apply for a Grant of Probate as the steps involve many documents and are very technical. Generally, there are 3 main stages in the application for a Grant of Probate. Your probate lawyer will do the following:

  1. Applying for a Grant of Probate
  2. Submission of the supporting documents
  3. Extracting the Grant of Probate

Understanding the duties of the Executor

The executor is required by law to perform the following duties:

  • Apply for and extract the Grant of Probate.
  • Arrange for the funeral of the deceased according to the will.
  • Gather an accurate list of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Pay off the deceased’s outstanding taxes, loans and debts.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the will.
  • The executor must act honestly. According to the law, they have to account for the distribution of the deceased’s estate and may be held liable for not fulfilling their duties.

No Valid Will – Apply for Letters of Administration

If the deceased did not leave a will, the deceased’s family member(s) must apply for a ‘Letters of Administration’ to become an ‘administrator’ of the estate.

According to the Intestate Succession Act, the Letters of Administration gives the administrator(s) legal authority to manage and distribute the deceased’s assets. With the Letters of Administration, the administrator(s) will be able to approach various institutions and request access to the deceased’s assets.

Who can be the administrator?

Under the Intestate Succession Act, the administrator is appointed by the court to manage and distribute a deceased person’s estate.

Generally, any of the deceased’s immediate family members may apply for the Letters of Administration.

According to the Intestate Succession Act, the following people are entitled to apply for the Letters of Administration, in order of priority:

  1. spouse
  2. children
  3. parents
  4. brothers and sisters
  5. nephews and nieces
  6. grandparents
  7. uncles and aunts

Based on the order of priority, if the deceased’s children wish to be the administrator(s), the deceased’s surviving spouse must renounce their right to apply for Letters of Administration.

What documents do you require when meeting the lawyer?

Before meeting with the lawyer, the administrator or the family members should prepare and bring along:

  1. the original death certificate of the deceased
  2. the original death certificate of the deceased’s next-of-kin (if applicable)
  3. the family members’ identification documents (e.g. NRIC or passport)
  4. a list of all the assets and liabilities owned by the deceased with supporting documents (e.g. bank statements, insurance policies, tax invoices etc.)
  5. Muslim Inheritance Certificate from Syariah Court (if applicable)

What is the process for applying for Letters of Administration?

It is not simple to apply for Letters of Administration as there are many steps involved, and the process is very technical. In general, your probate lawyer will help to apply for Letters of Administration by doing the following:

  1. Applying Letters of Administration
  2. Submission of the supporting documents
  3. Extracting the Grant

What are the duties of the Administrator?

The Administrator should carry out the following duties:

  • Make an accurate list of all the deceased’s assets.
  • Pay off the deceased’s outstanding taxes, loans and debts.
  • Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries according to the Intestate Succession Act.

The Administrator must act honestly and has to account for the distribution of the deceased’s estate and may be held liable for not fulfilling their duties.

What are the rules of distribution when there is no will?

For non-Muslims, the distribution of the estate will be according to the Intestate Succession Act. The Act states:

  • who the eligible beneficiaries are, and
  • the proportion of the estate that each beneficiary will receive.

If there was no will, the Intestate Succession Act states that the estate shall be distributed as follows:

Surviving beneficiariesDistribution
Only spouseSpouse is entitled to the whole of the estate.
Only parentsParents are entitled to the whole of the estate, to be divided equally between them.
Spouse and childrenSpouse is entitled to half of the estate. The other half is distributed equally amongst the children.
Only childrenChildren are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them. If any of the children is deceased, the grandchildren can claim their parent’s share accordingly.
Spouse and parentsSpouse is entitled to half of the estate. The other half is distributed equally between the parents.
Only brothers and/or sistersBrothers and sisters are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them. If any brother or sister is deceased, then the children of any deceased brother or sister shall be entitled to such share accordingly.
Only grandparentsGrandparents are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.
Only uncles and/or auntsUncles and aunts are entitled to the estate, to be split equally amongst them.
None of the above scenarios applyGovernment is entitled to the estate.

7. Manage the estate and distribute the inheritance

Once the Grant of Probate or Letter of Administration has been obtained, the executor has to access the assets, collect them, pay off debts, and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries. Some of the things the executor might have to do to complete the job include:

  • Properties: Sell or transfer the properties.
  • Banks: Pay bank loans, credit cards and get access to the deceased’s accounts.
  • Vehicles: Settle the vehicle ownership.
  • Bills: Settle all bills and taxes.
  • Debts: Settle all debts.
  • Insurance: Claim insurance monies.
  • Subscriptions: Close all accounts and cancel subscriptions.
  • Utilities: Terminate or transfer PUB, telephone and all utility services.
  • Distribution: Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries.

8. Account to the beneficiaries and close the matter

If you are the Executor or Administrator of the estate, you should account to the beneficiaries to show that all assets have been properly distributed.

In Conclusion

Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult, and often the family members do not know what to do during this difficult time. Knowing what to do with the deceased’s financial and legal matters can help you to obtain closure and move on. It is highly advisable to engage a professional probate lawyer who can guide you through the process and take a significant amount of time and stress off your shoulders.

Please do reach out should you require assistance.

Author

Lim Chong Boon

Head of Family Law & General Litigation Practice

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