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Administrators and Executors: Who, What and Why?

Most people often worry about who will ensure that their estate is divided according to their wishes. This is where an executor or an administrator comes in. This article takes you through the differences between the two and their role in the administration of your estate.
Alvin T'ngThu Aug 05 2021

Executors and Administrators are people that take charge of the distribution of your assets after you are gone [1]. In the eyes of the law, both are considered personal legal representatives, and are responsible for administering your estate after you are gone.

Appointing Executors and Administrators

Executors and Administrators are similar, the main difference being that an Executor is appointed by your will while an Administrator is appointed by the Court. An Executor is appointed where you pass with a will, and an Administrator is appointed where you pass without a will.

Executors and Administrators have to apply for different documents from the court upon your death. Executors apply for a grant of probate while Administrators apply for a letter of administration.

Your Executor gets their authority from your will. Therefore, it is possible for them to represent your estate in legal matters even before they receive the grant of probate. By contrast, an Administrator can act on behalf of your estate only after receiving a letter of administration.

Powers and Duties

Unless they are unable or unwilling to undertake the position, your Executor’s role takes effect on your demise, even before the Court grants him authority. They are appointed by your will and must read and understand your will. They should make the funeral arrangements as instructed by you in your will. They then need to obtain and gather all the relevant documents to apply for a grant of probate.

By contrast, the Administrator is appointed by the Courts and must instead gather documents to apply for a letter of administration. For more information refer to section Who can be my Executor or Administrator.

From this point forward, the duties and powers of both Executor and Administrator are essentially the same. To deal with your estate they would first need to prepare an accurate list of all your assets and pay off any debts that remain [2]. If your estate is solvent, which is when the estate has more assets than liabilities or debts, they can use the assets to pay off these debts and taxes [3]. However, if your estate is insolvent, which is the case when your debts and liabilities exceed your assets, your Executor or Administrator will need to arrange repayment [4].

Importantly, both Executors and Administrators have the power of sale over your assets. They need to take all reasonable steps to fulfil your debts before they can begin to distribute your estate according to your will, and can exercise the power of sale to sell off some of your assets to fulfil those debts where necessary.

Executors and Administrators have an obligation to act in the best interest of your estate, and to carry on their role honestly and impartially. This is known as a fiduciary obligation.

Who can be my Executor or Administrator?

Your Executor can be any individual chosen by you who is at least 21 years old and of sound mind. The age of the Executor is assessed only after the will comes into effect; that is upon your death. Therefore, children can be appointed as your Executor. If they reach the age of 21 by the time your will comes into effect they can take up the role of the Executor. If not, until they reach that age, a guardian or any individual from the next of kin may be appointed by the Court in accordance with the Probate and Administration Act [5]. If the child is 16, they may appoint a next of kin until they reach the age of 21.

Your Executor can be a witness to; your will [6]. Your Executor can also be a beneficiary under your will. Although it is worth taking into account whether you would want someone who has a personal interest in how your property is distributed to be in charge of the distribution.

While your Executor can be a witness or beneficiary to your will, they cannot be both. The law states that any individual who is a witness to your will cannot have a beneficial interest in your will. If an asset in your will is left for a witness or their spouse, it doesn’t affect the validity of the will and the witness will still remain a credible witness but the gift to the witness will be invalidated [7].

If you die without a will, or “intestate”, the Court will step in and appoint an Administrator by issuing a letter of administration. According to Singapore law, there are seven classes of people can apply for the grant of this letter. The classes are: your spouse, your children, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your nephews and nieces, your grandparents and uncles and aunts; listed in order of priority. Although any one from these seven classes can apply for a grant, those who rank higher in these seven classes are given preference. Anybody from a lower priority class can apply if they get the renunciation and consent of those higher in priority. For example, your spouse would get preference over your niece but if your spouse renounces his/her right to apply for the letter and consents to your niece applying for a letter of administration, it will be accepted by the Court.

Can an Executor or an Administrator be removed?

There are two grounds based on which an Executor/Administrator can be disqualified: bankruptcy and lunacy. Any individual who is bankrupt is disqualified from being appointed or acting as a personal representative unless they have permission from the Court [8].

If a person suffering from lunacy has been appointed as your Executor, they will not be eligible to manage your estate. Instead, they will be considered unfit to manage their own assets as well, and the Court will appoint someone to take charge of their assets. The person that is appointed by the court will also take up your Executor’s role in managing your estate.

Under Singapore law, the appointment of the person responsible for managing the affairs of any person who is suffering from lunacy is assigned to a committee by the Court [9]. Upon the committee appointing such a person, a letter of administration for your estate will be issued by the Court to them. This appointment lasts until your Executor is determined fit to administer your estate (i.e. not suffering from lunacy), after which the grant reverts back to the Executor, and they will resume the duties of managing your estate [10].

Along with the possibility of being disqualified, any individual that you name as an Executor is also allowed to voluntarily renounce their duty and their right to obtain probate for your estate. If this happens, the Court will have to appoint an Administrator.

What to consider before appointing an Executor

Ideally, your Executor should be someone younger than you. If your Executor dies without completing the administration of your estate (and he is the only Executor you have appointed), the Executor of his estate will step into his role as the Executor of your estate. This will prove difficult because your Executor’s Executor will not understand your estate and the circumstances of your beneficiaries.

To prevent situations like these, you can appoint a substitute Executor. This means that you will first appoint your preferred Executor, but in the event that that person is unable or unwilling to act as Executor, a different person - a substitute - can step in. WillCraft allows you to name a substitute Executor to ensure that your will is executed by someone that you have chosen.

You can also appoint up to four Executors, who may act jointly. The ability to provide a substitute Executor and up to four Executors to work together allows for different combinations. Additionally, you can select a substitute if one of the Executors is unwilling or unable to perform their duties. However, it may not be wise to appoint multiple co-Executors since it can lead to disagreements and power struggles between them.

You should remember to ask your Executor before you appoint them. An Executor can be held personally liable in matters relating to your estate, so consider carefully if you want a close relative taking up this role.

The flexibility in the current system allows you to name anyone as long as the basic qualifications are fulfilled, so consider choosing someone who knows and understands your assets and the beneficiaries that you intend to pass on your assets to.

Make your will now with WillCraft!

Naming an Executor is essential because through this process you retain control over who gives effect to your wishes. When you pick an Executor, you can pick someone who understands your assets and the manner in which you want them to be distributed. It is also important to expressly state in your will who you would like to appoint.

To ensure the person you want obtains the authority to administer your estate, your will should be clear and precise. WillCraft can help by ensuring that proper identifiers are used when you name your Executor such as their address and their NRIC along with their passport number.

We understand that making a will can be overwhelming. WillCraft’s services provide a simple and inexpensive solution to this problem. Our service is full featured and covers up to 10 million will permutations. Willcraft allows you to customise your own will from the comfort of your home.

Create your will with WillCraft today!

[1] Executors and Administrators take up the administration of your estate. They need to accurately account for all your assets, pay your debts and liabilities and then distribute the residuary estate to your beneficiaries. [2] Probate and Administration Act, s57. [3] Probate and Administration Act, s58. [4] Repayments need to be made according to the priorities given in the First Schedule of the Probate and Administration Act, and then rules under the Bankruptcy Act. [5] Probate and Administration Act, s21. [6] Wills Act (Cap 352, 1996 Ed) s12 states that an individual will not be considered incompetent to be a witness on account of being an Executor. [7] Wills Act (Cap 352, 1996 Ed), s10. [8] Bankruptcy Act, s130. [9] Mental Disorder and Treatment Act, s9. [10] Probate and Administration Act, s22


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