June 10, 2022

What to do when a loved one passes away

Even though experiencing the death of a loved one is a very difficult and emotional event, there are certain things you must do if it happens. These range from hiring a probate lawyer to settle financial and legal matters, as well reporting the death, to deciding how the estate should be managed and settling questions about inheritance.

Here are the 8 legal things you should do if a loved one passes away:

  1. Obtain the Certificate of Cause of Death (CCOD)
  2. Ensure you register the death
  3. Make arrangements for the funeral
  4. Let any relevant organisations know about the death, including the CPF Board
  5. Ascertain whether or not a will was left
  6. Make an application for Probate and make sure you know who the executor of the will is and what their duties are. Understand how the assets are to be shared and in what proportions, and who the lawful beneficiaries are.
  7. Make sure the estate is properly managed and the inheritance is distributed
  8. Account to the beneficiaries and then close the matter.

In this article, we’ll explain more about each of these requirements.

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

Family members must obtain this document upon the death of a loved one. It is needed to get a Death Certificate, to enable a burial or cremation to take place.

The method of obtaining the CCOD will depend on where your loved one died; at home, or in a hospital.

Deaths at home: you will need to call a doctor if your loved one died at home. You could call your family doctor or another neighbourhood GP. If a doctor is not available, you can also call the police.

The doctor will certify the cause of death and issue the CCOD, if it occurred naturally in the home. Then you can apply for a Death Certificate and begin making funeral arrangements. But if the cause of death is unknown or unnatural, the doctor will not issue a CCOD, and will instead refer the matter to the police.

Deaths in hospital: if your loved one died in a hospital, then the hospital doctor will certify the cause of your relative’s death and issue the CCOD.

2. Registering the death

In Singapore, all deaths must be recorded within 24 hours, regardless of citizenship or any other factors.

For deaths occurring in the home, you can register the death at ICA or any police post. For deaths in a hospital, the death can be registered there, and a Death Certificate obtained in the hospital.

3. Arranging the funeral

Consider the wishes of your loved one, if they expressed any, about whether they will be buried or cremated. Think about their preferences and religious beliefs and what they stated in their will, if there is one.

Usually, people engage the services of a funeral director, who will find out which Town Council you belong to. They will also obtain the necessary permit if you want to hold the funeral at an HDB void deck.

4. Informing the necessary organisations

  • Their bank(s): Identify the banks with whom the deceased person held accounts. You will need to decide what to do with any monthly direct debits or GIRO deductions they had. Let the credit card companies know if they had a credit card. You won’t be able to withdraw the deceased’s monies unless you’re the executor or administrator of their estate, and you’re able to show them the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration. We will explain below how important the probate process is and how to get probate from a probate lawyer.
  • Their employer(s): Tell your loved one’s employer that they have died, and ascertain whether there are any outstanding salary or other payments due.
  • Their insurance company: If you produce a Death Certificate, most insurers will pay out a small sum, but the majority of the insurance money will only be released when you produce a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.
  • Their CPF Board: You’ll need to tell the CPF Board so that they can release the CPF monies to the named beneficiaries.

CPF Funds – additional note:

If a CPF Nomination was made by your deceased relative, then their CPF savings will be shared amongst the nominees in accordance with the nomination form. Within 15 days of being notified of the death, the CPF Board will contact the nominees regarding the distribution of the CPF monies. But if no nomination was made, then the CPF savings will be handled by the Public Trustee along with other assets or money in existence. These will be allocated to the family of the deceased, following the rules of intestacy.

Included in the distribution of CPF monies will be the balances from the Ordinary account, MediSave Account, Retirement Account and Special Account. If no CPF nomination was made by your deceased family member, then their savings will be passed to the Public Trustee who will distribute them amongst the family according to the laws of intestacy or the Muslim inheritance law of Singapore.

5. Establishing whether a valid will has been left

You must check if a valid will was left by the deceased person. If there is one, then whoever is named as Executor in it must apply for a Grant of Probate to become the executor of the estate of the deceased.

Where no valid will has been made, the closest family member(s) should make the application for Letters of Administration in order to become the administrator of the dead person’s estate.

6. Applying for Probate

This is a key part of the legal process. Regardless of whether a will has been left, your family must take charge of the estate of the deceased and ensure the assets are transferred to the lawful beneficiaries.

You will probably need a specialist probate lawyer to help you here, as it is a complex and vital process that is essential if the deceased left assets to be given to beneficiaries.

(a) What is probate?

Someone must deal with the estate of a deceased family member—which is defined as the assets they owned—and distribute these assets to the beneficiaries. These assets may be property, possessions, or money they possessed when they died.

In Singapore, you must apply for a Grant of Probate (if there was a will) in order to deal with estate assets, or Letters of Administration (if no will). A specialist probate lawyer will usually do this for you.

(b) Grant of Probate application (if a will exists)

If a valid will exists, it will name a person as the executor. They will be the person who is nominated to ensure the deceased’s estate is distributed according to their wishes. The executor is also the person who must make the Grant of Probate application, in order to distribute the estate.

Once the executor has got this Grant of Probate, they can speak to organisations like banks, government agencies and others to ask for the access to the deceased’s estate.

(c) Documents required by a probate lawyer

If you are the executor, get the following documents ready for your meeting with a probate lawyer

  • The deceased’s will (original version)
  • The death certificate (original version)
  • Documents which identify the executor, such as their passport or NRIC
  • A list of the assets and liabilities that the person owned, with documents as proof (like tax invoices, insurance policies and bank statements)
  • If applicable, a Muslim Inheritance Certificate from the Syariah Court.

(d) Grant of Probate Application process

The Grant of Probate application should be made by the individual named as executor in the will. They’ll need to engage a specialist probate lawyer to assist them with this.

For all estates worth $5 million or less, the Grant of Probate application will be sent to the Family Courts. But if the estate is worth more than $5 million then the executor must make the application to the High Court Family Division.

It’s a complex process to apply for Grant of Probate, and generally involved these 3 stages which your lawyer can perform:

  1. Apply for the Grant of Probate
  2. Submit the supporting documentation
  3. Extract the Grant of Probate

(e) The legal duties of the executor

By law, the executor is required to:

  • Arrange the deceased’s funeral according to the will
  • Apply for and obtain the Grant of Probate
  • Compile an accurate list of all assets belonging to the deceased
  • Ensure any taxes, debts and loans that the deceased had are paid
  • Ensure the beneficiaries get the assets they were apportioned in the will
  • Act honestly at all times – the law requires the executor to account for how they manage the deceased’s estate, and will be held liable if they don’t do this properly.

(f) Applying for Letters of Administration if no Valid Will exists

If the deceased died intestate (without a valid will) then it is up to their family to become the ‘administrator’ of the estate, and to do this they must apply for Letters of Administration.

Under the Intestate Succession Act, the administrator is given legal authority by the Letters of Administration so that they can manage and distribute the dead person’s estate. The Letters Administration allows the administrator(s) to engage with various institutions in order to access the assets of the deceased.

(g) Who can be an administrator?

An administrator is appointed by the court in order to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate, under the powers of the Intestate Succession Act. Usually, and of the immediate family of the dead person can apply for Letters of Administration. The usual order of priority is:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Nephews and nieces
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts and uncles

Therefore, if for example the deceased’s children want to be the administrators, then the surviving spouse of the deceased must first renounce their right to apply for Letters of Administration.

(h) Documents required when meeting your lawyer

The family members or administrator need to bring the following documents to their meeting with the lawyer:

  1. The deceased’s original death certificate
  2. If applicable, the death certificate belonging to the deceased’s next of kin
  3. Documents identifying the family members (passport or NIC)
  4. A list of all the assets and liabilities the deceased owned, with supporting documentary evidence (invoices for tax, insurance policies or bank statements)
  5. If applicable, a Muslim Inheritance Certificate from a Syariah Court.

(i) Process for making a Letters of Administration application

Your probate lawyer will normally do this as it is a complex process. They’ll usually:

  1. Make the application for the Letters of Administration
  2. Submit the accompanying supporting documentation
  3. Extract the Grant.

(j) The duties of the Administrator

The administrator must do the following:

  • Create an accurate list of the deceased’s assets
  • Distribute those assets to the lawful beneficiaries according to the Intestate Succession Act
  • Ensure any loans, taxes and debts belonging to the deceased are paid off.

(k) Rules of distribution where no will exists

In the case of a non-Muslim, the Intestate Succession Act will govern the distribution of their estate. This Act states:

  • Who are the eligible beneficiaries, and
  • The proportion of the deceased’s estate that each beneficiary should receive.

Where no valid will exists, the estate should be distributed according to the terms set out in the Intestate Succession Act, as follows:

Surviving beneficiary: Distribution
Spouse only The spouse’s entitlement is to the whole estate
Parents only Parents are entitled to the whole estate, divided equally between them
Spouse and children The spouse is entitled to half of the estate, with the other half being divided equally amongst the children.
Children only The children are entitled to the whole estate, split equally amongst them. If any of the children are no longer living, then the grandchildren are entitled to their parent’s share.
Spouse and parents The spouse is entitled to half the estate, the other half being shared equally between the parents.
Grandparents only The grandparents are entitled to the estate, to be divided equally amongst them
Uncles and/or aunts only The uncles and/or aunts are entitled to the whole estate, split equally amongst them.
None of the above The estate goes to the government.

7. Managing the estate and distributing the inheritance

After obtaining the Grant of Probate (or the Letters of Administration), the executor can access the assets of the deceased, pay off debts, and give them to the beneficiaries. In order to complete the task, they may also have to do some or all of the following:

  • Bills: pay all bills and necessary taxes
  • Debts: settle outstanding debts
  • Vehicles: settle issues of vehicle ownership
  • Properties: sell properties or transfer them
  • Banks: get access to the deceased’s bank accounts and pay loans and credit cards off
  • Subscriptions: cancel all subscriptions and close the accounts
  • Insurance: claim any insurance monies
  • Utilities: transfer or terminate all telephone, utility and PUB services
  • Distribution: ensure the assets are distributed correctly to the beneficiaries.

8. Accounting to the beneficiaries and closing the matter

If you’re the administrator or executor of the estate, you must account to the beneficiaries and demonstrate that you have distributed all assets correctly.

Conclusion

It can be very hard to deal with the death of a loved one; family members often don’t know what to do during this time. But dealing correctly with the estate and knowing you have done things properly according to your loved one’s wishes is important to enable you to get closure and move on with your life. We strongly recommend you get the advice of a professional probate lawyer to help you through the process, make it quicker, and remove stress for you.

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