Will Writing in Singapore: A Guide

11.04.2024
Jeremy Cheong
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Jeremy Cheong

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+65 8800 8074

Having a valid will is crucial to ensure you have control over how your assets are dealt with when you pass away. If a will is not drafted correctly, there is a risk it will be found to be invalid, in which case legal rules dictate how your assets will be distributed.

If a person dies without leaving a valid will, they will be referred to as having died “intestate”. The Intestate Succession Act will determine how the deceased’s assets will pass to specific individuals. It should be noted, however, that the Act does not apply to Muslims, whose property will be distributed according to Muslim law and the Syariah Court.

Under the laws of intestacy, the entire estate could be distributed to anyone from the deceased’s spouse to their aunts and uncles, depending upon which categories of persons survive them. The estate will pass to the Singaporean Government if the deceased has no relatives.

The laws of intestacy do not provide for any gifts to individuals who are not related, nor do they provide for any gifts to charities. Therefore, the operation of this law may not be in line with the deceased’s true wishes, hence the need for a well-drafted will.

Useful terms to know

 Below are some key terms commonly used in preparing a will and dealing with a deceased person’s estate, together with their definitions.

Term Definition
Will A document that sets out how a person’s assets will be inherited following their death
Codicil An attachment to the will detailing any changes or additions to the will
Testator The person making the will
Beneficiary The person who is gifted assets by the deceased
Estate The entirety of the testator’s assets and liabilities
Executor The person who is appointed to manage the testator’s estate

Making a valid will

There are some basic requirements which need to be satisfied for a will to be valid in Singapore:

  1. The will must be in writing.
  2. The person making the will (i.e. the testator) must be at least 21 years old.
  3. The testator must sign at the end of the will.
  4. The testator’s signature must be witnessed by at least 2 independent witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the will in the testator’s presence.

These formalities must be complied with to ensure no fundamental issues arise with the will following the testator’s death. An electronic will is not sufficient as it would fail to comply with requirements 3 and 4.

A witness will be independent as long as they are not:

  1. A spouse of the testator; nor
  2. A beneficiary of the will.

What to write in the will

The more specific a will, the better. A perfectly drafted will addresses all possible situations and will avoid any ambiguity in terms of the disposition of the deceased’s assets. It would always be a good idea to do the following:

  1. Draw up a list of assets that clarifies what the estate consists of. Considering intangible and physical assets is vital, and everything should be accounted for.
  2. Draw up a list of liabilities and clearly state how such liabilities shall be settled before the remaining assets are passed to the beneficiaries.
  3. Identify the executors by stating their full name and address. Nothing prevents a beneficiary from being named as an executor. It is also wise to appoint a replacement executor to act in case the initially appointed person is unable or unwilling to act. Ideally, the executor should be informed of their appointment before the will is executed to avoid surprises and reduce the risk of them refusing or being unable to take on the role.
  4. Identify the beneficiaries. It is best practice to write the beneficiary’s full name and address in the will to avoid any confusion later. The will should also detail any “reserve” beneficiary who will inherit, should the first beneficiary die before the testator. One example is gifting a beneficiary’s share to their children equally if they do not survive the testator.
  5. State which assets shall be passed to which beneficiaries and in what proportions. The clearest way to do this will depend upon the type of asset. If it is a gift of money, the exact figure should be stated, and ideally, the source of the funds identified. If it is a gift of a proportion of an asset, such as property, this can be stated in percentages. The testator should check that the property they are giving away does form part of the estate to avoid disappointment and the potential for a dispute.
  6. If the testator wishes to instruct a particular professional to assist with the distribution of the estate, their details should be provided. For example, they may want to appoint a specific lawyer to assist the executors or a financial expert to help with any accounts.
  7. Every will should include a “revocation clause”, which clarifies that any previous wills are invalid. The testator should also destroy any previous wills as an extra measure to ensure no ambiguity.
  8. Include a clause dealing with the “residuary estate”. This constitutes any assets remaining after all liabilities and other gifts have been made. The testator may not anticipate anything left over when making the will, but they should insert this clause, nonetheless. In a situation where a beneficiary does not survive the testator, their gift will form part of the residuary estate and will need to be dealt with some other way.

Central Provident Fund (CPF)

A person’s CPF does not form part of their estate and, therefore, cannot be gifted to individuals under the terms of a will. To ensure any funds accrued under a CPF can be inherited, the fund’s owner must nominate their beneficiaries separately under the CPF itself. This can be done via the CPF board on the government website.

What if there are errors?

Mistakes in a will could have serious consequences. Ambiguity and errors in drafting may result in a dispute and extensive court proceedings being needed after the testator dies to establish what their intention was when drawing up the will. As the testator will have died by this point, the executors, and the court (if necessary) will have to rely on other evidence to decipher how the estate should be distributed.

Court proceedings or negotiations may also result in the deceased’s assets being depleted due to legal fees, with less remaining for the beneficiaries. In extreme situations, family bonds may be damaged or even broken irreparably.

Can the will be amended?

The testator may amend their will whilst they are still alive. This might be necessary if they realise, they have omitted something or made a mistake. Other important life events may also require the will to be altered, for example, if the testator gets married, divorced, or new beneficiaries are born (such as grandchildren).

It is important to note that the will itself, once duly signed, cannot be altered. However, the testator may prepare a document known as a “Codicil” which can be attached to the will, and which sets out any amendments or additions. The codicil must comply with the same formalities as a will to be valid. It should make clear which parts of the will are to be amended or removed and what new terms are to be added, if any.

A testator can add as many codicils to the will as they like. However, if it reaches a stage where the terms of the original will are being altered substantially, it may be better to create a fresh will. There is potential for confusion if executors must refer to multiple documents to determine the deceased’s wishes, so having everything consolidated in one will helps to reduce the risk of uncertainty.

Whether drawing up a codicil or a fresh will, the testator should inform their family members and the executors that they have made a new document. They do not have to disclose the contents, but the process will be made much simpler if family members can locate the relevant documents following the testator’s death.

Is a lawyer needed?

There is no legal requirement for a lawyer to prepare a will. If the will is straightforward, the testator may not consider instructing a lawyer to be necessary.

However, as mentioned above, a wrongly drafted will can cause significant issues. Therefore, it is usually worth instructing a lawyer to prepare a will, particularly if there are extensive assets, or the testator’s wishes are complex.

It would also be best to instruct a lawyer to draw up any codicils to make sure any amendments or additions are drafted properly to give effect to the testator’s wishes.

Jeremy Cheong
Author

Jeremy Cheong

WhatsApp

+65 8800 8074

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