June 13, 2022

What happens if you die without a Will?

Many people wonder what happens to their assets if they were to die intestate (without leaving a valid will). In this article we answer that question. You may also find this useful if one of your relatives has died without leaving a will, and you aren’t sure if you will inherit something from them.

The simple answer is that for people who die without leaving a will, the Intestate Succession Act applies, and that dictates who manages the estate and how assets are divided and distributed.

How assets are distributed after death

This very much depends on whether you left a valid will or not i.e. a legal document setting out in writing your wishes as to who inherits your assets.

With a valid will – how assets are distributed

If someone dies with a valid will, made before death, then the directions in the will are followed as to who should get what.

No valid will – how assets are distributed

Where someone dies in Singapore and has not left a valid will, they are described as having died ‘intestate’.

In this scenario, the legal act known as the Intestate Succession Act dictates how their estate should be distributed. The relatives of the deceased inherit assets in the amounts set out in the act.

Occasionally, a person has made a will but it was made improperly, and was declared invalid by a court. Then the assets will also fall under the rules for intestacy.

Thus, the state decides what happens to the assets of intestate people in Singapore – who gets what and in what amounts. The deceased person will have had no say in the matter.

Therefore, all our clients at PKWA Law are advised to make a will so they can exercise their right decide who manages their estate after death, and who gets what share of their assets.

What happens to your assets if you die intestate?

  1. Assets are frozen

As the person is not able to deal with them any longer due to their death, their assets are frozen. Money can’t be withdrawn from any bank accounts, no property can be sold, or securities dealt with. To unfreeze them, the deceased’s next of kin has to make a court application to obtain Letters of Administration.

At PKWA Law we often encounter frozen assets, where the next of kin needs a Grant of Probate if a will exists, or Letters of Administration if there is no will:

  • If bank accounts exist in the sole name of the deceased, the next of kin must apply for probate in order to withdraw funds from them.
  • If an HDB flat or private property belongs to the deceased, the next of kin must obtain probate to sell or transfer that property.
  • If insurance policies were held by the dead person, the insurer will need to see either the Grant of Probate or the Letters of Administration, so they can be sure they are paying out to the correct person.
  • If shares, or a vehicle were owned by the deceased, then the proof of probate is needed to transfer or sell the shares and vehicle.
  1. To unfreeze assets, the next of kin must apply for Letters of Administration

The closest next of kin to the deceased (usually their spouse or eldest child) needs to engage a specialist probate lawyer to get the Grant of Letters of Administration. This is a court order which names the next of kin as the personal administrator of the deceased’s estate. Their duties are to collect all assets, pay all debts, and share out the remainder of the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries named by law.

Under the powers of the Intestate Succession Act, the court appoints the administrator to deal with and distribute the deceased’s estate.

Any of the deceased’s family may usually apply for Letters of Administration. The following people are eligible to apply, in this order:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Brothers and sisters
  5. Nephews and nieces
  6. Grandparents
  7. Uncles and aunts
  8. The administrator will pay off debts using the assets

After gathering an up-to-date list of all the deceased’s assets, the administrator must use those assets to settle the person’s debts, loans and outstanding taxes. This will include things like subscriptions, utilities, credit cards and bank loans.

  1. Assets are distributed to surviving relatives according to the Intestate Succession Act

The Intestate Succession Act will dictate how assets are divided for anyone dying without a valid will. The inheritance distribution includes securities, real estate, bank accounts and any other assets the deceased owned when they died, after paying off tax and debts.

For intestate people in Singapore, their assets will be divided according to whether they were single or married, and whether they had children or not.

There is a common misunderstanding that a surviving spouse inherits everything when an intestate person dies. This is not always true. This only occurs if someone dies and does not have any surviving parents or children. If there are parents or a child, the spouse will only get 50%.

Usually, the deceased’s property is split between the relatives including a surviving spouse, siblings, aunts and uncles and grandparents.

  1. The Intestate Succession Act dictates how much each beneficiary inherits

If there was no will, then the deceased’s estate is shared out according to section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act. The rules set out here must be followed by the estate’s administrator, as follows:

  • You have a spouse only (no children or parents): your spouse gets everything
  • You have a spouse and children: your assets are split equally, half and half between your spouse and your children
  • You have only children (no spouse): your children get everything split equally among them
  • You have spouse and parents (but no children): Spouse gets half and parents get other half equally between them)
  • You have only parents (no spouse or children): parents share everything equally
  • You have only siblings (no spouse/children/parents): your siblings (or children of the deceased siblings) get everything in equal shares
  • You have only grandparents (no spouse/children/parents/siblings/children of siblings): grandparents get everything in equal shares
  • You have only aunts and uncles (no spouse/children/parents/siblings/children of siblings/grandparents): your aunts and uncles take everything in equal shares.

Speak to a specialist estate lawyer

Dealing with the death of a loved one and their estate can be incredibly difficult and can feel overwhelming. Our probate lawyers provide a professional and compassionate service to you if you are going through the death of a family members and need help dealing with the administration of their estate.

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