The Duties Of An Executor Of Will In Singapore

by | Jun 10, 2024 | Knowledge & Insights

A will executor is entrusted with the responsibility of executing a deceased individual’s will. It is their duty to ensure that the final wishes regarding the distribution of assets and estate management are carried out with accuracy and respect to the deceased’s intentions.

In Singapore, the executor’s role is governed by the Wills Act and the Probate and Administration Act, which lay down clear guidelines and responsibilities.

This role demands a combination of legal knowledge, ethical conduct, and often, emotional sensitivity as executors navigate through the complexities of estate management.

That’s why we’ve created this article to provide a comprehensive guide to help executors navigate their duties with confidence and clarity. Whether you’re a first-time executor or seeking to refresh your understanding, this will serve as a valuable resource.

Appointing A Will Executor In Singapore

Appointing a will executor in Singapore is a critical step in estate planning. Under the guidance of the Wills Act and the Probate and Administration Act, the appointment is typically made by the person drafting the will, known as the testator.

Legally, the chosen executor must be over 21 years of age and of sound mind. While there are no strict legal requirements for the executor to be a legal or financial expert, it is advisable to select someone with a certain degree of knowledge or experience in these areas, given the complexities involved in estate administration.

When appointing an executor, consider their reliability, organisational skills, and impartiality, as they will be responsible for tasks ranging from paying off debts and taxes to distributing assets to beneficiaries. It’s also wise to consider the potential executor’s relationship with the beneficiaries to avoid conflicts of interest.

In Singapore, appointing a family member or a trusted friend as an executor is common. However, in more complex cases, or where impartiality is crucial, appointing a professional executor, such as a lawyer or a trust company, may be preferable.

Discussing the responsibilities with the chosen executor before officially appointing them in the will is essential, ensuring they can take on this significant role.

Can An Executor Of A Will Be A Beneficiary?

In Singapore, it is legally permissible for an executor of a will to also be a beneficiary under the same will. This is a common practice, especially in cases where close family members are involved.

For instance, it is not unusual for a spouse or an adult child to be named executor and beneficiary.

This dual role is legally acceptable if the executor carries out their duties objectively and follows the will’s stipulations. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential conflicts of interest.

The executor must balance their role as a beneficiary with their obligations to other beneficiaries and the estate.

Duties Of An Executor Of Will In Singapore

The executor of a will in Singapore has several crucial duties and responsibilities. In performing these duties, executors must act in the best interest of the beneficiaries, maintaining impartiality and adhering to the legal standards outlined in the Wills Act and the Probate and Administration Act.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on executing a will in Singapore:

1. Thoroughly Understanding The Deceased’s Will

The executor’s first task is to read and interpret the will meticulously. This involves understanding the specific instructions about asset distribution, any particular wishes regarding funeral arrangements, and other special directives.

Additionally, pay attention to any particular wishes regarding funeral arrangements and other special directives, like donations to charities or the care of a pet.

For instance, the will might specify that a particular piece of jewellery is to go to a certain family member, or it may outline specific funeral arrangements, like a desire for a green burial.

Misinterpretation of the will’s language can lead to disputes among beneficiaries. It’s not uncommon for executors to face challenges in determining the exact meaning of certain terms or instructions.

In such cases, consulting with a legal professional specialising in wills and estates might be necessary to clarify any ambiguous terms and ensure the deceased’s intentions are fully understood and respected.

Maintaining open and transparent communication with all beneficiaries can also help mitigate misunderstandings and conflicts.

2. Organising And Overseeing Funeral Arrangements

The executor is often responsible for organising the funeral. This includes making decisions about the funeral service, burial or cremation and handling any related financial aspects.

If the deceased preferred a particular type of religious service or a specific funeral home, these wishes should be honoured. The will might also specify whether they preferred a traditional burial or cremation.

A frequent challenge is balancing the deceased’s wishes with the expectations and emotional needs of the family members, especially if the will’s instructions are vague or if there’s a conflict between the deceased’s wishes and family traditions.

When specific directives are absent in the will, it’s crucial to engage in sensitive discussions with family members to reach a consensus that respects the deceased’s likely preferences and accommodates family needs.

3. Securing Necessary Documents For The Grant Of Probate Application

Following the initial assessment of the will, the executor must gather all documents required for the grant of probate application.

A grant of probate is a legal document that represents official recognition by the Court that a will is legally valid and that the person(s) appointed as executor(s) in it are authorised to administer the estate. It’s also needed to access bank accounts, sell assets and settle debts after someone has died.

The executor must ensure that every document below is accurately prepared and compiled to facilitate a smooth progression to the next stage of estate administration.

  • Court filings such as the Originating Summons, Statement, and Supporting Affidavit (necessary for applying for a Grant of Probate).
  • Records of any searches for probate caveats and applications.
  • A detailed Schedule of Assets.
  • Administration oaths, affidavits, and consents from co-administrators or filed renunciations (if applicable).
  • A certified true copy of the Death Certificate or a Court Order for presuming the death of the deceased.
  • A certified true copy of the last will and any codicil (will amendments, if present), along with any certified translations (if needed) by a lawyer.
  • A foreign grant for resealing a Foreign Grant of Probate (if applicable).
  • An Inheritance Certificate (for Muslim estates).
  • Any additional supporting documents relevant to the case.

If there’s uncertainty about any aspect of the documentation, seeking advice from a legal professional specialising in estate administration is advisable.

Additionally, maintaining a detailed checklist and timeline can help keep track of all necessary documents and their submission deadlines, ensuring nothing is overlooked or delayed.

4. Applying For And Obtaining A Grant Of Probate

Once you’ve compiled all documents, you can apply for a grant of probate within 6 months from the deceased’s date of death.

The first step is to assess the deceased’s assets and liabilities, which is essential for compiling the Schedule of Assets.

Some assets like money in the deceased’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) account, immovable property held under a joint tenancy with no outstanding mortgage, and some insurance policies with nominations may be distributed without a grant.

If the estate is below $50,000, you may be able to apply for the Public Trustee to administer the estate if you satisfy certain criteria.

If any foreign person is entitled to an estate or interest in residential property, the estate or interest must be transferred to the beneficiaries or sold within 5 years from the date of death, as required under the Residential Property Act.

You may choose to file personally or through a lawyer. If you are represented by a lawyer, your lawyer will file the application.

If you are representing yourself, follow these steps to apply.

1. Pre-Application Procedure (Optional)

Before proceeding with your probate application, it’s recommended to conduct a preliminary search for any existing probate cases or caveats linked to the deceased’s estate. This important step can be done at the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau.

You will need to provide the identification number of the deceased to facilitate this search. Ideally, this should be done on the same day you intend to submit your probate application, focusing specifically on the current year’s records.

After completing this search, include a concise summary of the results with your Originating Summons. Detailed reports of each should be attached if your search uncovers any relevant probate cases or caveats. When active cases or caveats are found, seeking legal advice is advisable.

2. Filing The Probate Application

On the day you conduct your search, proceed to file your probate application by submitting all the necessary documents at the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau. There are 2 locations:

Location 1: Supreme Court
1 Supreme Court Lane
Level 1, Supreme Court Building
Singapore 178879

Tel: 6337 9164
Email: [email protected]

Location 2: State Courts
No. 1 Havelock Square
Level 2, State Court’s Tower
Singapore 059724

Tel: 6538 9507
Email: [email protected]

The Service Bureau plays a crucial role in this process. They will help prepare the Originating Summons, Statement, and Schedule of Assets based on the information you provide and will take responsibility for filing these documents on your behalf.

3. Verification Of The Original Will

An additional requirement in this process is verifying the original will. This verification must be conducted at the Probate Registry located at Level 4, Family Justice Courts on Maxwell Road.

It’s important to note that this step must be completed by 4:30pm on the next business day following your application submission.

NOTE: For estates worth up to $5 million, file the application at the Family Courts. For estates worth above $5 million, an application is filed under the Family Division of the High Court.

4. After Filing For A Grant Of Probate

Post-application, the court will then review your submission. You will be notified by the LawNet & CrimsonLogic Service Bureau via email or SMS about whether your application documents have been accepted.

If your application is in order, the court will formalise the documents, assign a case number, and set a hearing date. These sealed documents need to be collected from the Service Bureau.

Additionally, a Supporting Affidavit must be prepared and filed within 14 days after filing the Originating Summons.

In cases where the application is not in order, the court will indicate the reasons for rejection. You will then need to correct any errors and resubmit the documents accordingly.

Given the complexities of managing Singaporean estate laws and the extensive documentation required enlisting a probate lawyer can be advantageous. A lawyer’s expertise can streamline this process.

The lawyer’s role is to ensure all documents, including those related to property like HDB flats, are accurately prepared, facilitating a smoother Grant of Probate application.

If you are considering hiring a lawyer, you can book a free 30-minute consultation with one of our lawyers to get started.

5. Settling Debts, Taxes, Funeral, Testamentary And Administration Expenses

An executor must manage an estate’s finances reasonably, mainly when settling debts and taxes. Suppose the estate is solvent (assets exceed liabilities).

In that case, the executor is responsible for using the estate’s assets to pay off debts and taxes, such as income tax liabilities, in accordance with section 58 of the Income Tax Act.

However, in an insolvent estate, priority shifts to covering funeral, testamentary, and administration expenses before any debts or taxes.

Testamentary expenses are costs incurred in the execution of a will and the administration of an estate. These can include legal fees for probate, costs for preparing and filing necessary documents, and expenses related to managing and distributing the estate’s assets.

Administration expenses, on the other hand, are broader and encompass all costs associated with handling the deceased’s estate, including expenses for maintaining the property, paying utilities, and other costs that arise during the management of the estate until its final distribution to the beneficiaries.

The Probate and Administration Act, specifically section 67, details how executors can claim reimbursement for funeral expenses from the estate, with a cap on claims set by the Public Trustee for estates valued at $50,000 or less.

Testamentary and administration expenses, necessary for fulfilling executor duties, are also claimable. These take precedence over other debts in an insolvent estate, ensuring the deceased’s final rites and the costs of administering their wishes are adequately covered.

6. Announcing The Intention To Distribute Assets

Before distributing the assets of a deceased’s estate, an executor in Singapore is responsible for ensuring that all beneficiaries, creditors, and other interested parties are appropriately acknowledged and settled.

To facilitate this, it is advisable, though optional, for the executor to publish a notice of their intention to distribute assets.

This is commonly done in the Government Gazette or newspapers. The notice informs potential claimants, providing them two months to present any claims against the estate.

Such a public announcement is a safeguard for the executor, as it limits liability for claims that might arise after the distribution of assets once the specified notice period has elapsed.

7. Executing The Distribution Of Assets As Per The Will

After obtaining the grant of probate and following the expiry of the public notice period for asset distribution, the executor is tasked with distributing the estate’s assets.

This distribution should align precisely with the instructions outlined in the will, ensuring each beneficiary or their respective guardians receive their entitled share.

The Singaporean Courts expect this distribution to be executed within a reasonable timeframe, typically within six months following the deceased’s passing.

This timeline is established to ensure a prompt and efficient transfer of assets, honouring the deceased’s wishes in a timely and respectful manner.

8. Maintaining Accurate Records Of Estate Administration

As an executor, you have a fiduciary duty to maintain accurate and detailed records of all estate administration activities. This responsibility includes keeping transparent accounts of all transactions, decisions, and actions.

The purpose of such record-keeping is twofold. Firstly, it ensures that beneficiaries are kept informed about the management of the estate, promoting transparency and trust. Secondly, as the executor, it verifies that you are fulfilling your duties effectively and responsibly.

Before distributing any assets, it is necessary to present these accounts to the beneficiaries for their examination and approval. This step is crucial as it allows beneficiaries to review and understand how the estate is managed, ensuring their rights and interests are adequately protected.

There are no strict guidelines on how these accounts should be maintained, but they must be thorough, complete, and accurately justify and document any actions you take as an executor.

Typically, these accounts should include detailed information on the current status and past transactions related to each asset you receive, as outlined in the Schedule of Assets. Doing so ensures that all financial activities are transparent and accountable, upholding your fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries and the estate.

Executor’s Rights And Limitations In Singapore

While executors in Singapore have significant rights to manage and distribute estate assets, these are counterbalanced by strict legal limitations and the duty to act in the estate’s and its beneficiaries’ best interest.

Legal Rights Of Executors

Executors in Singapore have the authority to handle all aspects of the estate, from accessing bank accounts to selling property. This includes the right to decide on the timing and method of asset distribution.

They are also empowered to settle any estate-related debts and liabilities. Importantly, executors have the right to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred during estate administration.

These rights are governed by the Probate and Administration Act, ensuring executors can fulfil their duties effectively.

Limitations On Executor’s Powers

Despite these broad powers, executors are bound by strict limitations. They must adhere to the terms of the will and cannot make changes to the beneficiaries’ entitlements.

Their actions must be transparent and in the best interest of all beneficiaries. Executors are prohibited from using estate assets for personal gain beyond reasonable compensation.

Any deviation from these duties can lead to legal consequences, including being removed from their position or facing legal action from beneficiaries.

Legal Accountability And Compliance

Executors are legally accountable for their actions and must maintain comprehensive records of all transactions. They are subject to scrutiny by the beneficiaries and can be legally challenged for mismanagement or breach of fiduciary duties.

In cases of serious misconduct, executors can be held liable in Court. This accountability ensures executors execute their duties with integrity and comply with Singaporean law.

Conclusion About Executor Of Will In Singapore

The role of an executor is multifaceted and demanding, requiring a balance of legal knowledge, organisational skills, and a deep sense of integrity. As an executor, it’s important to ensure that the deceased’s wishes are honoured respectfully and that the estate is managed efficiently and fairly.

Singapore Family Lawyer offers professional guidance for those needing assistance in drafting a will or understanding the nuances of executorship in Singapore. Book your free 30-minute consultation and get expert advice from one of our law experts.

Frequently Asked Questions On Executor Of Will In Singapore

How Many Executors Can Be Appointed For A Will In Singapore?

A will can appoint multiple executors, with a common practice of appointing up to four. This ensures a balance of responsibilities and continuity in managing the estate.

Can An Executor Resign From Their Duties In Singapore?

Yes, an executor can resign by filing a renunciation form before starting the estate administration. However, resigning becomes more complex once they have begun the role and may require Court involvement.

Is It Necessary For An Executor To Reside In Singapore?

While not mandatory, it is advantageous for an executor to reside in Singapore due to the local nature of legal and administrative procedures. If residing overseas, the executor may face practical challenges in effectively managing the estate.

How Is An Executor Appointed If Not Named In The Will?

The Court can appoint one if the will does not name an executor. Typically, this is a close family member or a beneficiary of the will, but the Court will consider what is most beneficial for the estate management.

Does An Executor Get Paid For Their Services In Singapore?

Executors are not automatically paid but are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. They may also receive compensation if the will specifies it or the beneficiaries agree. The Court can also grant a fee for their services.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.