“Estate” refers to all the assets you have at the point of death. Estate planning is important, as you think about and plan how you want to manage and transfer your assets in the event of your incapacity or death.
In Singapore, estate duties or “inheritance tax” is not payable for persons dying on and after 15 February 2008. You therefore don’t have to worry about planning your estate in such a way as to try and limit the amount of estate duties payable.
This article will give a broad overview on the 8 common tools you can use for estate planning in Singapore.
1. Wills and Testamentary Trusts
Wills contain instructions on how a person’s estate should be distributed after his death. Here are some key considerations in drafting a will:
- Identifying your assets;
- Selecting your executors and/or trustees;
- Selecting your beneficiaries (including reserve beneficiaries, in the event of simultaneous death); and
- Whether a trust should be created.
The will need not specify every single one of the assets owned by the person making the will. In most cases, a general clause will distribute all property, movable and immovable and wherever situated. Care must be taken in the distribution of immovable property in other countries as they may not recognise the probate (i.e. the proving of a will’s validity) obtained in Singapore.
Executors are persons who must present the will to the court to obtain probate. Trustees are persons appointed to distribute the estate based on the instructions in the will. Executors and trustees are usually the same persons for reasons of convenience, and can also be beneficiaries of the will. Executors and trustees must be at least 21 years old at the time the will takes effect. This means that it is possible to appoint infant executors and trustees at the time the will is written. However, 2 executors and 2 trustees (a total of 4 persons) are required if there are beneficiaries of the will below 21 years old.
You can also create a trust under your will, for the holding of certain property “on trust” for the beneficiaries of your will upon your death. Such a trust is known as a testamentary trust.
It is common to be unsure of who you want to distribute your estate to, and in what proportion, when writing your will. However, you may amend your will anytime so long as you have the mental capacity to do so.
If you do not write a will, your assets will be distributed according to the rules in the Intestate Succession Act.
For more information on how to write a will, see here.
2. Central Provident Fund Nomination
Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies do not form part of a deceased’s estate and cannot be distributed under a will, or under any trust created by you. This is because monies deposited into CPF accounts are held on trust in favour of the person(s) nominated to receive the funds.
In other words, the person(s) you have nominated to receive your CPF funds will receive all your CPF monies.
There are certain instances when you may want to change your nominee. For example, if your nominee predeceases you, or when your existing nomination is automatically revoked under the law because you have (re)married.
You may change your nomination by completing the CPF Nomination Form. This form must be signed in the presence of 2 witnesses above 21 years old.
3. Manner of Holding of Immovable Property
Immovable property commonly refers to an interest in real estate, such as your house. There 2 common manners of holding interest in immovable property – tenancies-in-common and joint tenancies.
A tenancy-in-common is where each owner of a property has a “severed” share of the property. For example, A owns 40%, B owns 40% and C owns 20% of the house. A, B and C can choose to sell or deal with their share in any manner they like. Such share or interest in immovable properties held by tenants-in-common can be distributed under a will.
Joint tenancy is when co-owners of a property each own the whole, i.e. 100%, of the property. Under the law, parties registered as co-tenants of a property are presumed to be joint tenants if they do not specify whether they hold the property as joint tenants or tenants-in-common.
If one joint tenant of the immovable property predeceases another, the surviving owner(s) will now own the entire property. This is commonly known as the right of survivorship, and has the effect of causing the deceased’s share or interest in the immovable property to be divested from his estate. In other words, due to the right of survivorship, interest in immovable properties held in joint tenancies do not form part of a deceased’s estate and cannot be distributed under a will.
When undertaking estate planning, you should therefore consider whether you want to hold your immovable property as a joint tenant or a tenant-in-common. For example, married couples may wish to hold their matrimonial home as joint tenants so that ownership of the property will pass to the surviving spouse when the other passes away.
It is also possible to convert the manner of holding of the property from a joint tenancy to a tenancy-in-common, and vice versa, if you change your mind later on.
For more information on what happens to an HDB flat when one owner passes away, see here.
4. Life Insurance Policies
Life insurance policies (or irrevocable trust insurance policies) are policies of insurance taken out by a person on his own life for the benefit of his nominee(s) (usually his spouse or children). These policies are termed “irrevocable” as the nomination cannot be revoked, even by the person who bought the policy. The nomination can only be revoked with all nominees’ consent.
As life insurance policies are a form of trust, the benefits disbursed under such policies do not form part of the deceased’s estate.
However, some policies allow policy subscribers to leave the nomination field blank. In such a situation, the benefits of the policy will be distributed according to the deceased’s will.
5. Lasting Power of Attorney
A lasting power of attorney (LPA) is an instrument that allows a person (i.e. the donor) to appoint and authorise another (the donee) to make decisions about the donor’s personal welfare and/or property and affairs in the event the donor loses mental capacity. A donor can select up to 2 donees who can act jointly and/or severally with an additional replacement donee.
With dementia on the rise, the government has been encouraging Singaporeans to file an LPA by waiving the $50 fee payable to the Office of Public Guardian for the execution of the prescribed LPA Form until 31 August 2020. The LPA form must be certified by a lawyer or a medical practitioner.
For more information on LPAs in Singapore, see here.
6. Advance Medical Directives
An Advance Medical Directive (AMD) is a legal document you sign in advance to inform your doctor that you do not want the doctor to use any extraordinary life-sustaining treatment to prolong your life, in the event that you are terminally ill and become unconscious or incapable of exercising rational judgment.
Only individuals who are mentally sound and at least 21 years old can make an AMD. The AMD also has to be signed by 2 witnesses who are not vested in the individual’s death. One of the witnesses has to be the individual’s doctor.
For more information on AMDs in Singapore, see here.
7. Inter Vivos Trusts
An inter vivos – Latin for “between the living” – trust is an instrument created by a person in his lifetime (i.e. the settlor) for the benefit of another (i.e. the beneficiary).
In this situation, the settlor will place his property under the instrument (i.e. the trust). He will then appoint someone (i.e. the trustee) to manage the trust property for the beneficiary. Contrary to popular belief, a trustee need not be a trust company.
The settlor may specify when and how to distribute the property to the beneficiary. The settlor may even specify what conditions the beneficiary must meet before being able to receive the property being held on trust.
A trust is a useful instrument to ensure that your property is used by the beneficiary according to your instructions (e.g. for educational, medical, or religious purposes). The trust can take the form of a simple deed which must be signed, sealed, and delivered to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to be stamped for a nominal fee of $10.
For more information on trusts in Singapore, see here.
8. Distribution of Estates Owned by Muslims in Singapore
In Singapore, the distribution of estates of Muslims domiciled in Singapore is governed by the Application of the Muslim Law Act. Read more about Muslim inheritance law in Singapore.
Estate planning is a daunting task, mainly because of the lack of awareness and the necessary information on estate planning. If you need legal advice on any of the tools discussed in this article, you may get in touch with one of our wills and probate lawyers.
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