Wills, Probate, and Letters of Administration

  • Inheritance
Wills, Probate, and Letters of Administration

When loved ones pass away, they leave behind property collectively referred to as the deceased’s estate. This property must be administered and distributed according to the law. If the deceased leaves behind a will, he or she would likely have appointed at least one person, known as the executor, to manage the estate according to the deceased person’s wishes.

If, however, the deceased was unable to leave behind a will, the court will appoint at least one person to administer to the estate of the deceased. In such scenario, the appointed administrator is often times the deceased’s spouse or next of kin.

If the deceased’s spouse or relative intends to manage the estate, then he or she must submit specific documents to the court in order to apply for a Grant of Probate (if a will is available) or Letters of Administration (if a will is unavailable).

Grant of Probate – When a valid will is available

A Grant of Probate is applicable when the deceased leaves behind a valid will. This document authorises the executor to both administer the deceased’s estate.

What is an executor?

An executor is an individual appointed by the deceased to manage his or her estate, and who usually takes the form of a deceased person’s spouse or heir. The executor must apply for a Grant of Probate with the court before he or she can administer and distribute the assets to the listed beneficiaries.

What if there is no executor of a will?

In some instances, the deceased fails to name an executor in his or her will, or leaves behind an incomplete and therefore invalid will. The deceased’s spouse or next of kin must then apply to the court to be appointed as the administrator of the deceased’s estate.The process of appointing an administrator to the deceased’s estate is referred to as Grant of Letters of Administration.

How many executors can be appointed?

Though the number of executors in a will ultimately depends on the preference of the testator, it is recommended that more than one executor be appointed so that the executors can keep each other in check. It is also ideal to have other executors named in case one of them is unable to perform their duty, or is too physically or mentally unfit to manage the estate.

Can you give up the right to apply for the Grant of Probate?

If the appointed executor(s) refuse to manage the deceased’s estate, the executor(s) can renounce the right to apply for the Grant of Probate. During the hearing of the application for the Grant of Probate, the executor or their legal representative can renounce the stated right simply by informing the court. The court will then appoint another person to manage the deceased’s estate. In this situation, the grant extracted is called the “Grant of Letters of Administration with the Will Annexed.”

Where to apply for Grant of Probate?

The proper venue to apply for Grant of Probate depends on the total value of the deceased’s estate:

  1. Public Trustee Office: If the value of the estate is less than $50,000;
  2. State Court: If the value of the estate is below $3 million;
  3. High Court: If the cost of the estate is more than $3 million.

What are an executor’s duties?

Executors carry out specific duties that are dependent on the will’s contents. Generally, however, an executor’s responsibilities include:

  1. Administration and distribution of the deceased’s assets according to the will;
  2. Acting as “trustee” of the deceased’s estate.

A trustee has the power to hold, invest, or use any money for a minor beneficiaries’ benefits. A minor refers to a person under 21 years old.

Though being appointed as an executor is considered an honour, the executor may also be liable for any unpaid debt and taxes the deceased may have left behind.

How long does it take to get a Grant of Probate?

If you hire a lawyer to apply for a Grant of Probate, it will likely be ready in four to six weeks from the date the necessary documents were submitted.

Contesting a will – Contentious Grant of Probate

Sometimes, the family may feel that the will (left behind by the deceased) does not correctly reflect the deceased’s final wishes. In this case, the family members may opt to contest the will and prove in court that it is void so that the deceased’s estate will be distributed differently.

There are five grounds to contest a will:

  1. Non-compliance with formalities;
  2. Lacking capacity of the testament;
  3. Will that was made under undue influence;
  4.  Fraudulent will;
  5. Failure to provide for dependents of the deceased.

Non-Compliance with formalities

The court can declare a deceased’s will as invalid if the will has failed to comply with the following:

  1. Writing form;
  2. The testator is at least 21 years old;
  3. The signature of the testator must be at the bottom of the will; if unable to sign, another person may do it in the testator’s presence);
  4. At least two persons must witness the signature of the testator and also sign on the testator’s will in his or her presence;
  5. The spouse or the beneficiaries cannot be the two main witnesses of the will due to conflict of interest. The third witness, however, may be a recipient.

Lacking of testamentary capacity

At the time a person is writing his or her will, he or she must meet the following criteria:

  1. A sound mind – The person must have a mind free from illness that affects his or her ability to create a will;
  2. A sound memory – The person can remember his or her possessions;
  3. A sound understanding – The person must know who he or she is giving the gift to.

Elderly testators should write their will privately, in the presence of their lawyers, in order to avoid potential issues related to undue influence or incapacity.

For testators that are blind, deaf, or mute, it is essential to show in the will that the testator understood the will’s contents. The testator must also state his or her awareness that the will was created according to instructions given.

Wills created under undue influence

It is possible for the testator to write or sign a will under undue influence–pressure, harassments, threats, or persistent persuasion. This may happen when another person influences the testator into creating the will according to the other person’s wishes.

Fraudulent will

There are several ways that a will may be considered as fraudulent. One example of a fraudulent will is a will signed by the testator who is led to believe that he or she is signing another document. A fraudulent will may also arise when there are two wills from the same testator, with two different signatures. Here, the court may need to ask handwriting experts to thoroughly examine the signatures.

Failure to provide for deceased’s dependents

It is possible for the deceased (parent) not to leave anything to his or her children and instead leave all possessions to a person he or she may be having an affair with. Since this scenario could cause hardship to the children, the court may find that the will is unreasonable in terms of providing for the deceased’s dependents. As such, the court may change a portion of, or even the entire will. Before making a decision, the court will consider several factors.

The Inheritance (Family Provision) Act of Singapore regulates such situation. If a person intends to contest a will under this ground, he or she must be dependent and should be:

  1. The deceased’s wife or husband;
  2. The deceased’s daughter who is not married, or who is mentally or physically disabled or unable to maintain herself;
  3. The deceased’s son who is mentally or physically incapacitated or incompetent to maintain himself;
  4. The deceased’s infant son.

Do I need a lawyer for a Grant of Probate?

Applying for a Grant of Probate requires several forms to be filled and documents to be filed, and some may find such process daunting. It is advisable, therefore, to seek assistance for an experienced legal professional.

Letters of Administration – No valid will available

When the deceased fails to leave behind a will, the grant extracted from the court is referred to as Letters of Administration. Since the deceased died intestate, the distribution of his or her estate should comply with the relevant laws.

For persons in Singapore other than Muslims, the relevant laws fall under the Probate and Administration Act and the Intestate Succession Act (ISA). Muslims in Singapore, on the other hand, are governed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act and Syariah Law.

Who can be the administrator?

For non-Muslims, the appointment of an administrator is based on the order of priority stipulated by the ISA. The ISA enumerates seven categories of individuals who are eligible to apply for the Letters of Administration, and therefore take the role of administrator. In order of priority, these persons are:

  1. The spouse;
  2. The children of the deceased;
  3. His or her parents;
  4. Brothers and sisters;
  5. Nephews and nieces;
  6. Grandparents; and
  7. Uncles and aunts.

For Muslims, a person with the highest number of shares in the deceased’s estate, according to their inheritance certificate, shall be appointed as the administrator. The Syariah Court grants inheritance certificates before the application of the Letters of Administration.

A minimum of two administrators must be appointed if there is a beneficiary of the deceased’s estate who is below 21 years of age.

If a person lacks capacity (such as dealing with bankruptcy or being a minor), such individual cannot be appointed as administrator.

Can the right to apply for Letters of Administration be renounced?

A person prioritised by law to apply for the Letters of Administration may renounce this right. To renounce this right to apply, the individual must file a renunciation and consent form.

How long do Letters of Administration take?

Once the final court documents have been filed, it typically takes four to six weeks for the Letters of Administration to be extracted.

Do I need a lawyer to apply for Letters of Administration?

Applying for Letters of Administration can be complicated and require utmost accuracy. We strongly advise that you hire a legal expert to assist you throughout the entire process.