A Grant of Probate is needed from the court if a deceased person has died leaving a Will. The beneficiaries are set out in the Will, and they inherit the assets.
However, when a person dies and does not leave a valid Will, then family members must ask the court to issue a Grant of Letters of Administration. The family members named in the Intestate Succession Act then inherit the deceased’s assets.
This article explains how these two legal documents differ from each other.
When A Person Dies, What Happens to Their Estate?
In Singapore, when a person dies, the property, effects, bank accounts and investments they leave behind form their “Estate”. This Estate must be distributed to the beneficiaries of the deceased. These beneficiaries must obtain an order for the court that gives authority to whoever is managing the Estate, in order to:
- Pay off any debts owed by the deceased
- Sell or transfer property the dead person owned
- Close their bank accounts and cash in any investments
- Distribute what remains of the Estate to the beneficiaries
The Deceased Person Made a Will
In this case, the court issues a Grant of Probate to allow the distribution of the Estate by an “Executor”, named in the Will.
The Executor plays a vital role in the probate process, by ensuring the assets are located and distributed fairly to the beneficiaries. If you are making a Will, choose your named Executor carefully, because the beneficiaries will have no power to replace them following your death. Ensure they are trustworthy and capable of managing the process, which may take several months.
The duties of the Executor are usually: to deal with the affairs of the deceased; set their assets; ensure any debts they owed are settled; and ensure the assets go to the beneficiaries named in the Will.
Think of the Grant of Probate as the court’s way of saying that the Will is valid. Financial institutions involved in the settling of the Estate will require a Grant of Probate so they can be sure that the Will is indeed legal and valid, and the named Executor(s) are the right people to be dealing with the Estate. They won’t release funds without it.
The Deceased Person Did Not Make a Will
In these circumstances, the court’s authority is given via Letters of Administration to the next of kin, and is used to allow an “Administrator” to deal with the Estate.
If no Will exists, then nobody has been specifically appointed by the deceased to administer their Estate and so the law must identify the people who can apply to administer the Estate. In order of priority, these individuals are as follows:
- The spouse of the deceased,
- The children
- The parents of Brother and sisters
- Nieces and nephews
- Aunts and uncles
Sometimes the person(s) with priority to apply for Letters of Administration does not want to take on that responsibility, and in such cases, all of the beneficiaries can agree that a different individual should become the Administrator. The beneficiaries can therefore ‘renounce’ their right to administer the Estate, in favour of someone else.
In situations where the deceased did not leave a valid Will, section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act will apply. This section sets out how the assets should be apportioned and distributed. If, for example, the dead person had no living parents or children, then the spouse inherits everything. If there are living children and a spouse of the deceased, then the spouse will get half of the estate and the children get the other half.
A specialist probate lawyer can help you
Our team of experienced specialist probate lawyers are ready to help you with any support you need on the subject of Wills, probate and letters of administration.