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Will the Government Settle My Inheritance for Me?

Ask the average Singaporean if they have a Will and chances are, they'll tell you that they don't - because "the government will settle for them". We'll see how true this statement really is, and if we really can rely on the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 147) to sort everything out for us.
Alvin T'ngThu Aug 05 2021

Ask the average Singaporean if they have a Will and chances are, they'll tell you that they don't - because "the government will settle for them". But is this true?

The short answer is:

"Yes, but not really"

You may be thinking, what do you mean "not really"?

There's the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 147) that has rules that apply to the distribution of assets if you pass away without a Will - that's settles my inheritance right? Nope.

The Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 147) only settles how your assets are to be distributed, it does not handle who is going to distribute your assets. Inheritance is not just about the distribution of assets. It's also about who distributes the assets.

Who is responsible for distributing my assets if I don't have a Will?

Contrary to popular belief, the government does not distribute your assets for you - The Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 147) works together with the Probate and Administration Act (Cap. 251) to allow the Courts to appoint someone who will distribute the assets for you. [1]

You may think, well that isn't so bad - but hold on. The simple fact that the Courts need to appoint someone to distribute your assets for you may lead to unintended consequences.

However, before we get into those situations, you've to understand a little about the process called Probate. If you already know what it is, please skip the next section. ## What is Probate? We've summarised the process here, but if you want to understand the process in more detail, we write about it here.

Probate is a court process that happens after a person passes away. In essence, it is an application to obtain the authority to start the distribution of the deceased's assets. If the deceased does not have a Will, the process will focus on (1) determining who the deceased next-of-kin are, and (2) determining who will distribute the deceased's assets. If the deceased has a Will, the process will focus on (1) determining that the Will is a valid Will, and that the Will is the last will of the deceased.

Perfect. Now we can get back to the topic. What so bad about the Courts having to choose someone who will distribute my assets?

The Consequences of not having a Will.

Consequence 1: You don't know who is going to distribute your assets

If you do have a will, you'd probably have appointed an Executor in that Will - that's the person that will be responsible for distributing your assets. However, if you don't have a Will, nobody knows who's responsible for distributing your assets since you didn't select one.

As We''ve mentioned before, the Courts will do so during Probate. Of course, the person responsible for distributing your assets is not randomly picked. Your next-of-kin would have to apply to the Courts for the position during Probate, and the Courts will choose from the applicants. This means that almost anyone could apply.

Does the court know your next-of-kin better than you? I doubt so.

Consequence 2: All your assets are frozen - your loved ones may have to wait up to a year before getting any money.

Notice that in the Probate summary above, the process of Probate when you have a will focuses on one thing - determining that the Will is a valid Will, and that it is the last will of the deceased. In contrast, if you don't have a will, the Probate process focusses on two things - (1) determining who the deceased next-of-kin are, and (2) determining who will distribute the deceased's assets

This makes the Probate process longer - much longer. Probate with a Will takes about 3 months, and Probate without a will can take up to a year or longer.

This may mean that it could take a year or longer from the time you pass away till the time your assets start getting distributed!

Why is this an issue, you ask?

Well, during the Probate process all your bank accounts are frozen, and nobody can touch your properties. This essentially means that they cannot use your money to pay for anything. This could pose problems if you were the only breadwinner of the family and your family relies on that money to get by.

The situation gets worse, if you had racked up massive hospital bills before you passed. Even if your loved ones are self sufficient and didn't rely on your assets to get by, the hospital bills may come as an unexpected expense, and your loved ones would have to pay for that themselves.

This may mean that your family goes without distributions for a significant amount of time since Probate may take up to a year if you don't have a Will. If you pass away from an illness and have racked up massive hospital bills, your family end up burdened with a good amount of debt.

As we've mentioned above, Probate is a Court process involving a court application. Therefore, it would likely involve lawyers. As you know, the longer lawyers are involved, the more expensive (they charge you hourly rates, remember?).

We've checked out the prices on the market, and found that Probate applications for people without Wills start from $2400. By contrast, probate applications for people with wills start from $1400. That's $1000 more expensive - and we're only taking about the lower range of lawyers!

If you think about it, writing a Will with a lawyer may cost about $500. This is half the (additional) cost of passing away without a Will! If you're using WillCraft, which starts at $49, the cost for passing away without a will is approximately 20 times more!

Consequence 4: The chance of family disputes increases

After a death in the family, emotions and tensions are understandably high. To add to all that stress, your loved ones still have to make decisions (1) on who should take on the responsibility of distributing your assets, (2) who should settle the hospital bills, if you've got hospital bills to pay, and (3) who should take out loans to setting outstanding bills, if loans are required. To add to that, they won't be getting the inheritance to ease the situation until a year after!

I don't know about you, but it's stressful just thinking about it. If you've got a Will, all that goes away, or in any case is kept to a minimum. All your family needs to do is follow the Will, allowing them to grieve in peace.

If you're interested, we're the first online Will Drafting platform in Singapore. And I know what you're thinking: "Online can rely or not!". Besides drafting your will for you (from just $49), if you draft your will with WillCraft, you'll be able to choose from a panel of Singapore law firms to review and witness your Will for a FLAT FEE of just $79! Yes, no hourly rates, no sky high prices, just honest work at an affordable cost.

[1] Save for the really specific scenario set out in Section 62 Probate and Administration Act (Cap. 251) where no applications for letters of administration have been made, and you have less than $50,000 in assets.


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