Probate Procedure in Singapore
When a Japanese national with property in Singapore dies, it is necessary to consider which country’s law will apply. Since Singapore is an Anglo-American law country like the U.S. and the U.K., the law of the country where the real estate is located is applied to the real estate, and the law of the decedent’s nationality or last place of residence is applied to other property. Therefore, Singaporean law will be applied to the inheritance procedures for real estate located in Singapore. If the decedent is a Japanese citizen and resides in Japan, property other than real estate will be inherited under Japanese law. However, the financial institutions in Singapore may require you to take procedures for probate or appointment of an administrator of the estate.
Overview of Probate Procedure in Singapore
In Singapore, as in Hong Kong, the estate is settled on a liquidation basis, meaning that the inheritance does not pass directly and comprehensively to the legal heirs and devisees, but only the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs and devisees through a liquidation procedure (probate procedure) under the supervision of the Family Justice Courts. The family justice courts supervise the probate process, and only the remaining assets are distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries. The law governing probate and administration of estates in Singapore is called the Probate and Administration Act.
If there is a will
If the will provides for an executor, the executor petitions the court for a Grant of Probate, and upon issuance of the Grant of Probate by the court, the executor disposes of the estate in accordance with the terms of the will. If a Japanese person has made a will and the will designates an executor, the executor will file a petition for a Grant of Probate. Even if there is a will, if there is no provision for an executor in the will or if the executor refuses to accept the position, the heirs will file a petition for a writ of probate. However, since it is difficult for a Japanese person to directly carry out the actual procedure, a lawyer residing in Singapore will be appointed as the representative and the petition will be filed by that lawyer. The court will then decide whether the Singapore-qualified attorney will be the executor of the estate in Singapore, or whether the Singapore-qualified attorney and the Japanese executor will be jointly appointed as the executor of the estate in Singapore.
If there is no will
If there is no will of the decedent, the Japanese legal heirs (in most cases, spouse and children) will file a petition for Grant of Letters of Administration with the Singapore court. Once the court issues a Grant of Letters of Administration, the administrator has the authority to administer and dispose of the property in Singapore. The administrator will close bank deposits, dispose of real estate (condominiums and apartments), pay taxes and other debts, and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.
Documents to be attached to the petition
The petition must be filed with all supporting documents. The following documents are usually considered as attachments, but additional documents may be required in some cases. Documents prepared by Japanese authorities or institutions must be apostilled. Documents prepared by individuals or private organizations must be authenticated by a Japanese notary public, certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and certified by the Embassy of Singapore in Japan. Documents written in Japanese must be translated under oath by a translator.
-Death Certificate of the deceased
-Marriage certificate for spouse
-Birth certificate for parents/children
-Original Will of the deceased
-Documents related to the decedent’s assets (bank account statement, shares statement, title documents)
-Documents regarding the decedent’s debts
-Legal opinion from an attorney regarding the scope of heirs.
If the existence of bank deposits is not known
Even if the existence of bank deposits is not known at the time of the grant of probate or grant of letters of administration, the executor or administrator of the estate appointed by the Singapore court will still be able to make inquiries at banks and financial institutions.
If the deceased had domiciles in Commonwealth
If the deceased had domicile in a Commonwealth country such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, or Hong Kong, and died leaving property in Singapore, the court in the country where the domicile was located will issue a grant of probate or a letter of appointment of administrator of the estate. In such a case, the petitioner may be required to file a petition for appointment of an administrator of the estate in Singapore. In this case, the petitioner may file a reseal petition with the Singapore court to approve the foreign grant.
If the deceased had domicile in a country other than Commonwealth
If the deceased had domicile in a country other than a Commonwealth country such as Japan, a petition for a grant of probate or a grant of letters of administration must be filed with the court to make a new petition to the Singapore court.
Since there is no estate tax in Singapore, there is no need to file an estate tax return in Singapore. If the Japanese heirs are unlimited taxpayers, they are required to file an inheritance tax return in Japan for the property inherited in Singapore.
If there is a will
If there is a will of the decedent, the court will appoint an executor. After paying taxes and other debts, the executor distributes the remaining property to the heirs according to the terms of the will. In this case, who gets how much property depends on the contents of the will.
If there is no will
If there is no will, an administrator of the estate is appointed by letter of grant of administration. The administrator of the estate will administer the decedent’s property and distribute the remaining property according to the provisions of the law. Since Singapore law is the governing law for real estate located in Singapore, the scope of heirs and the portion of inheritance will be determined based on Singapore law. The following is a summary of the differences between the Japanese Civil Code and Singaporean law in terms of inheritance shares and the scope of heirs under Singapore law. (i) If there is a spouse and no children, the spouse inherits the entire property (under Japanese law, if there is a spouse and no children, the spouse and lineal ascendant or spouse and siblings inherit). (ii) If there is a spouse and children, the spouse gets half of the property, and the children equally get the rest of the property. (iii) If there are only children, the entire property is acquired equally among the children. (iv) If the spouse and lineal ascendant are the heirs, the spouse gets half of the property and the remaining half is acquired equally among the lineal ascendant (under Japanese law, if the spouse and lineal ascendant are the heirs, the spouse gets 2/3 and the lineal ascendant get 1/3). In contrast, bank deposits deposited in Singaporean financial institutions are governed by Japanese law, so the scope of heirs and the portion of inheritance will be determined based on Japanese civil law.