How to Apply for Grant of Probate7.10.2022
Just as in many other countries around the world, in Singapore, the law requires that a probate process is undertaken before estate property can be distributed to beneficiaries. A Will, on its own, is not usually enough to manage the property of the deceased, contrary to popular belief.
The probate process requires the filing of several necessary documents and there are several stages to go through before the Singaporean court will issue the Grant of Probate. Even though the process is set out clearly in legislation, a qualified probate lawyer is usually needed in order to comply with the requirements and make sure that all assets and liabilities are accounted for. As you will discover in the article below, this can be a time-consuming and complicated process to handle on your own.
When do you need a Grant of Probate?
There are some cases when obtaining a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration order can be skipped. This usually happens when the value of the estate is less than $50,000 and when it is not encumbered by unpaid debts or liabilities. But in reality, financial institutions are reluctant to release any monetary funds without a court order, even if the amount is small and doesn’t exceed $5,000.
So in most cases, one of the two court order mentioned above is necessary to manage the estate. If one of the following situations applies, then the Grant of the Letters of Administration is requested:
- No Will was left by the deceased, or the Will was lost, or cannot be found;
- The executor named in the Will, who is meant to be managing the distribution of the estate, is not carrying out this role for some reason.
In other scenarios, if a Will is present and the executor is willing and able to administer the distribution of the estate, he or she should file an application with the Family Justice Courts for extracting the Grant of Probate. Where the value of the estate is below $3 million, the Family Justice Court will review the application. But if the deceased’s assets exceed that amount, it will be the Supreme Court of Singapore that will review the application for Grant of Probate.
Filings for the Grant of Probate
At each stage of the probate process, a predetermined set of documents with strictly defined forms must be prepared and filed. These documents will include:
- Ex-parte Originating Summons. The Originating Summons are called ex-parte because the only applicant they include is the executor of the Will. This document is made up of details of the deceased as well as the applicant’s information, and follows Form 48, found in Appendix A in the Family Justice Courts Practice Directions (FLegal AdviceD).
- Probate Statement. This document is set out in Form 51 of the FLegal AdviceD Directions. Among other information, it will include confirmation of the applicant’s authorities, the estate’s estimated value, and submissions of the application within six months of the date of the deceased’s death, or a relevant explanation if this is not the case.
- Certified copy of the Death Certificate. If no Death Certificate is available, then the executor should search for Death Records or Extract via the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
- Certified copy of the Will. The Will should be written in English or be accompanied by a translation into English, along with a supporting affidavit.
- Caveats and Application Search. The Originating Summons should be followed by a record of caveats and the record of probate applications. These should indicate if any earlier applications exist regarding the same estate, or whether there are any potential objections to the granting of probate.
- Administration Oath. Under the Probate and Administration Act, anyone applying for a Grant of Probate must persuade the court to distribute the estate as per the terms of the Will, and must pay the deceased’s outstanding debts using the property assets. This obligation is made in the form of an Administration Oath, as set out in Form 54 of Appendix A of the FLegal AdviceD Directions.
- Supporting Affidavit. This is filed once the Administration Oath has been provided. It must be accompanied by the statement, a certified copy of the Will, and a certified copy of the Death Certificate, as well as the Schedule of Assets.
- Schedule of Assets. This schedule is made according to the rules in the FLegal AdviceD Directives, and should list all assets of the deceased held in Singapore and worldwide. This includes real estate, personal property, other assets and also any outstanding secured debts. Ideally, all assets of the estate will be known to the executor at the time of compiling the Schedule of Assets – this will greatly speed up the probate process.
- Supplementary Affidavit. In situations where the estate’s exact scope are not known, and the executor or their lawyer has to ascertain the existence of assets with financial institutions, then they must file a Supplementary Affidavit and Schedule of Assets after they have made their enquiries.
The Stages of the Probate Process in Singapore
- Filing the initial application. An application for probate is filed electronically through the eLitigation platform. If the executor decides not to hire a lawyer, and to handle the process themselves, they should go via a Service Bureau, and follow that separate procedure.
At this point, the executor or their lawyer should provide the Ex-parte Originating Summons, the Probate Statement, a Certified Copy of the Death Certificate, a Certified Copy of the Will and Caveats, and an Application Search Report, as listed above. After filing these, the executor or their legal representative must – on the next working day – provide the original of the Will to the Probate Counter at the Family Justice Court.
- Providing Administration Oath, Supporting Affidavit, and Schedule of Assets. Once the court has accepted the probate application, the executor or their lawyer has 14 days to sign and file the Supporting Affidavit and Administration Oath. The signing of these documents must be done in front of a Commissioner for Oaths in Singapore. In situations where the executor is not in Singapore, then the signing should be done in the presence of a public notary.
- Hearing in Court. After accepting the application and Administration Oath, the court will set a date for the probate hearing. If the court received the Supporting Affidavit and final Schedule of Assets before this date, then the hearing may take place without the applicant. Otherwise, the executor or their lawyer must be present at the hearing.
- Enquiries to Financial Institutions, filing of Supplementary Affidavit, and Schedule of Assets. If the full extent of the deceased’s estate is not known, then the executor or their lawyer must make enquiries with financial institutions, both in Singapore and also abroad. If the lawyer makes the enquiries, then the executor should sign a Letter of Authorisation, addressed to each financial institution. When the answers to all the enquiries have been received, the executor or their lawyer should sign a Supplementary Affidavit in the presence of the Commissioner for Oaths, along with the final Schedule of Assets.
- Extracting the Grant of Probate. Once the court is satisfied that all required documentation has been filed and that the estate is eligible for probate, then the executor or their lawyer can request the extraction of the Grant of Probate. Before this, however, the applicant should submit the final caveat and probate application, in order to make sure there are no other applications concerning the same estate. The Grant of Probate will be sent via the eLitigation platform. If desired, the applicant can also request a paper copy of the Grant from the court for an additional fee, with an embossed red seal. This option is rarely used, however, as the electronic copy of the Grant has the same legal effect.
Other Probate Considerations in Singapore
Most executors will opt to have a lawyer involved, to make the process quicker and easier, although some will decide to apply for a Grant of Probate on their own. Having an attorney do it will make the process easier, but the procedure will be the same whether the executor or lawyer does it.
Those executors wishing to apply themselves for Grant of Probate should remember that there are several considerations which can arise during the process. One situation to consider is when the court in Singapore has doubts as to whether the testator understood the contents of the Will, or is not sure that the contents of it were explained to the testator whilst signing it. This may be the case when the document is signed in Chinese, or confirmed by a thumbprint.
Lastly, if there are disputes over a probate application or any conflicting interests to do with the estate, this will make the probate application contentious. Many contentious cases end up at trial, but early involvement of a probate lawyer in these cases can quicken the process.
In Singapore, the probate process ensures that – for all parties involved, including the testator, executor and beneficiaries – the property will remain in the right hands. The Grant of Probate is provided only after the court is satisfied that it has all the evidence of the last Will, proof that there are no opposing claims and caveats against the grant, a comprehensive list of assets, and all the signed affidavits of the respective parties.
There are some situations in Singapore where obtaining the Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration may not be required, but these are limited to lower value estates and are rare. Usually, the Grant of Probate will be a prerequisite for the release and distribution of the estate. Enlisting the help and advice of a probate Attorney in Singapore can help to make sure that all requirements are met, and that the estate is made available to the beneficiaries for distribution.