What is Probate and How Long Does it Take?

  • Inheritance
What is Probate and How Long Does it Take?

A person who passes away usually leaves behind a will which, among other things, identifies the names of the individuals appointed to be executor(s) and/or trustee(s). Persons appointed by the deceased must apply for a Grant of Probate.

When the deceased does not leave behind a will or leaves behind a will that is invalid, the deceased’s next-of-kin must go to court and apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration.

Below, we enumerate the steps needed to apply for a Grant of Probate. Note that this process is not a quick and straightforward one, and so you may want to consider hiring an experienced lawyer who is familiar with the process. He or she will know how to execute this process on your behalf.

Where do I apply?

The venue where you need to apply depends on the amount of the deceased’s estate.

If the gross amount of the deceased’s estate is:

  • Less than $3 million, it is in the jurisdiction of the Family Justice Court;
  • More than $3 million, it is in the jurisdiction of the Family Division of the High Court.

In some cases, the deceased does not appoint an executor in his or her will. The court will then determine the individual who is most fit to administer the deceased’s estate. Such rule is regulated under section 13 of the Probate and Administration Act. After the court decides, it will grant the Letters of Administration with the will annexed to the individual(s).

Applying for a Grant of Probate can be a contentious process and also involves the gathering of many documents. Therefore, it is highly recommended to seek assistance from a legal professional so as to make the process a more efficient one.

How to apply for the Grant of Probate

As mentioned earlier, the application process requires many documents and involves several steps..

Preliminary stage: Preparation of documents for the application

Application forms for the Grant of Probate may be found on The Family Justice Courts’ official website. The documents needed are:

a) Ex parte Originating Summons

This is the first document needed for the application. “Ex parte” refers to the absence of any other party involved in the application, such as when the executor(s) is the only applicant.

Form 48 in Appendix A of the Family Justice Court Practice Directions (FJCPD) is used to file the Originating Summons. This form requires the following information:

  1. The deceased’s details;
  2. The applicant’s details; and
  3. The requested order– “Probate be granted to the Applicant(s)”.

The applicant must also attach a Certificate of Results of Caveat and Probate Application Searches in Form 52 of the FJCPD to the Originating Summons. This will confirm that there has already been a completed search for any caveat and probate application related to the deceased’s estate. It also certifies that no prior caveat or probate application was found.

The applicant should also attach a digital copy of the search report summary. If applicable, he or she should attach any positive search outcomes of a caveat or prior probate application.

b) Form 51- Statement for Probate or Administration

The second document to be filed is the Statement for Probate or Administration in Form 51 of the FJCPD. This form provides specific information related to the deceased, the deceased’s estate, and the applicant(s). The information requested includes:

  1. The deceased’s details, such as information about his or her death, and domicile;
  2. The estimated value of the estate (confirmation of the gross value – more or less than $3 million);
  3. Confirmation – Filing CTC- A certified true copy of the will (the Family Justice Courts verify the original will);
  4. Admission – that the applicant(s) is appointed as an executor in the will;
  5. Whether or not the application is filed within six months from the death of the deceased. If not, reasons for the delay must be provided.

A lawyer will obtain this information from the applicant before electronically filling the form on your behalf.

c) Death Certificate – Certified True Copy (CTC)

The applicant shall submit to the court a certified true copy (CTC) of the deceased’s death certificate. The court then verifies that the estate’s owner was legally certified to be deceased.

If unable to provide the deceased’s death certificate, the applicant may search for a Death Record (if he or she does not know the exact date of death). The applicant may also apply for a Death Extract (if he or she can provide the deceased’s full name, date of death, and NRIC). These searches may be performed on the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority’s website.

d) Will – Certified True Copy (CTC)

A will’s certified true copy should include certification that states “This is a certified true copy of the original will of (the deceased’s name) dated (date).” This should be printed on a cover page and attached to the will’s certified true copy.

Following the filing of the above-mentioned documents, the applicant must file the original will with the Family Justice Courts’ Probate Counter. This must be done before 4:30 pm on working days. As soon as the court verifies that the will is indeed authentic, the court will return the original will to either the applicant or the applicant’s lawyer.

The will must be written in English. If the deceased uses any other language in the will, the applicant must apply for a translation performed by the court translator. The applicant’s lawyer may also assist in getting the will translated. The court translator will verify the accuracy of the translation in a supporting affidavit.

There are, of course, exceptions:

  1. When the original will is in a foreign court’s custody, the applicant is permitted to file a CTC of the will, rather than the original will.
  2. If the applicant has lost the original will, the Probate and Administration Act specifies that the applicant may file a draft copy of the will if both the draft and final will are identical. This may potentially lead to a contest, however, so the applicant should seek legal advice.

e) Caveat & Probate Search

On the day of the probate application, the applicant should search both the records of warnings and probate applications. The applicant must attach a digital copy of the report (and the results of a positive search) to the original summons.

Step 1: Main application submission

The main application involves the filing all relevant documents in court. If the applicant engages a lawyer, he or she will file your application through the eLitigation portal. If you, as an executor, consider applying without engaging a lawyer, you may use the eLitigation Service Bureaus’ counters to file electronically.

Once you or your lawyer have filed the required documents, you will be given a provisional probate case number and a checklist of items. As mentioned previously, your lawyer will have to file the original will at the Probate Counter of the Family Justice Courts by 4:30 pm of the following workday. You then have to provide supporting documents.

Step 2: Submission of supporting documents

a) Administration Oath

If applying for the right to be an administrator of the deceased’s estate, the appointed executor(s) or trustee(s) must make an oath to the court stating that the estate will be distributed according to the deceased’s will. According to section 28 of the Probate and Administration Act, the applicant must  pay the deceased’s debts from the estate’s monies.

If you hire a lawyer, he or she will prepare the Administration Oath using the Family Justice Court Practice Directions’ (FJCPD) Form 54 in Appendix A. You should then sign the Administration Oath with the Commissioner for Oaths present, and the Administration Oath will be filed electronically on the eLitigation portal afterwards.

b) Supporting Affidavit

The applicant must submit a Supporting Affidavit within the deadline. Your lawyer will prepare for you a Support Affidavit (Form 225 in Appendix A of the FJCPD). The applicant then, in the presence of the Commissioner for Oaths, signs the Supporting Affidavit.

Required documents to be presented in the Supporting Affidavit are:

  • A statement submitted to and accepted by the court
  • The deceased’s will and the CTC of the Death Certificate; and
  • A schedule of Assets

c) Schedule of Assets

In Singapore, a Schedule of Assets refers to a list that reveals all deceased’s properties and debts as at the date of death.

If you are an applicant, you must find out the values of the deceased’s properties, including real estate, as well as other personal assets.

Real estate is the deceased’s HDB flat or other private property, or part-share in a flat or property.

Personal property is any other property besides real estate that belonged to the deceased. It may include: monies in bank account(s), fixed deposit account(s) and unit trust account(s), stocks and shares, insurance policies (it is essential to check whether the policy is assigned to anyone), vehicle(s), jewellery, and other items in the deceased’s safe deposit box. This list is not exhaustive, and you should consult your lawyer for detailed advice.

The deceased’s CPF accounts are not included in the estate. If the deceased chose a person to inherit the CPF monies, the CPF monies should be distributed to the deceased’s nominee(s). If the deceased did not nominate anyone, his or her monies will be distributed by the Public Trustee. This will be done under the laws of intestacy and section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act, which states that it is to be inherited by the family members who rank according to the distribution rules.

The Schedule of Assets has to contain the deceased’s property abroad, as well.

When the court confirms the deceased’s assets, the applicant or his or her lawyer will file the documents through the eLitigation portal. This includes the Schedule of Assets, according to Form 226 in Appendix A of the FJCPD, and the checklist (including the Supporting Affidavit). Any amendment to the Schedule of Assets must be filed as a separate application.

Step 3: Court hearing

When the filed application has been accepted along with the Administration Oath, the court will inform the applicant or the lawyer on the hearing date and time.

Your lawyer shall attend the probate hearing, though the lawyer’s presence is not obligatory for the submission of supporting documents (such as Supporting Affidavit and Schedule of Assets). Note that the court accepts those before the hearing date, though in this case, the court may cancel the hearing.

Step 4: Schedule of Assets submission and Supplementary Affidavit

When the applicant is not able to confirm the details related to the deceased’s assets during the early stage of the application process, he or she may get assistance from the lawyer to write to the relevant financial institutions. The financial institutions will demand an express authorisation from the applicant/executor(s). The lawyer will require the applicant or executor(s) to sign a Letter of Authorisation.

Based on the Support Affidavit, the court will grant an “Order-in-Terms” of the probate application. After that, the applicant or the applicant’s lawyer may write to the relevant financial institutions to obtain detailed information regarding the deceased’s outstanding accounts, shares, and monies.

After the applicant’s lawyer has obtained the relevant information, he or she may then fill in the Schedule of Assets on behalf of the applicant. The applicant will be requested to sign the Supplementary Affidavit exhibiting the complete Schedule of Assets. The lawyer will file these two documents on the eLitigation portal. Any amendment to the Schedule of Assets shall be submitted in another application separately.

Step 5: Grant of Probate Extraction

When the court accepts the Supplementary Affidavit and Schedule of Assets and confirms that no documents have been left out, the applicant’s lawyer is then allowed to request for Grant of Probate extraction,

The applicant must apply for the extraction to ensure that there are no caveats remaining against the deceased’s estate. The search will also reveal if there are any pending applications related to the deceased’s estate.

The executor(s) and/or trustee(s) do not have to sign an administration bond. Instead, the deceased has it in his final will, entrusting the estate to the executor(s) and trustee(s).

When all of the required documents are in order and the applicant has paid all relevant fees, the court will provide and issue the Grant of Probate, attaching the Schedule of Assets. The applicant’s lawyer will then receive an electronic copy via the eLitigation portal.

The court will restrain from issuing a Grant of Probate until the executor(s) and trustee(s) have paid the inheritance tax. This is relevant only to persons who passed away before 15 February 2009.

If needed, the applicant may ask his or her lawyer for help to obtain a Paper Grant with the court’s red seal on it. When the executor(s) and trustee(s) receive the Grant of Probate, they may start to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate.

Should I hire a lawyer?

If you managed to make it this far on your own–well done! Applying for a Grant of Probate is a tedious process, and so we strongly recommend that you seek legal assistance from an experienced lawyer. Work with a lawyer who has plenty of experience in this process, and who offers both transparent and affordable fees.