Guide to Intestacy Law in Singapore

At some point, you might have wondered what happens to all your hard-earned money and other assets when you pass away. Who distributes your assets? What is distribution procedure under the Intestate Succession Act? Checkout the guide by WillCraft.

Liane Yong

Liane Yong

Lawyer, Managing Director

11 min read •

Intestate Succession Act

If you don’t have a will, the State decides on the distribution of your assets on your behalf. This is done through the Intestate Succession Act which provides, in default of a will, to whom your assets will be given after death, and up to what proportion. The people who are entitled to receive a proportion of the deceased’s assets are listed in the Intestate Succession Act according to priority. These are ,first, the surviving spouse and children of the deceased. Next, the surviving parents. Third, the surviving siblings. Fourth, the surviving grandparents. And lastly, the surviving aunts and uncles. Rules are provided for the distribution of the estate of the deceased [^1].

Distribution Under the Intestate Succession Act

Among the beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased, the first in priority is the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse of the deceased is always entitled to a share in the intestate, absent a will providing otherwise. The rules provide that if the deceased left behind a surviving spouse, in the absence of surviving children and parents, then the spouse shall get the whole value of the estate [^2].

Next in priority are the children. If the deceased leaves behind a surviving spouse and children, the spouse gets half of the entire estate, and the other half is to be divided equally among the children [^3]. If there is no surviving spouse or parent, the child of the deceased shall receive the estate. If there is more than one child, it will be divided among them in equal shares. Also, it is worthy to note that anything given to the children during the time the deceased was living is not included in the calculation of their share in the estate. This is the concept of hotchpotch [^4], and does not apply to Singapore’s intestacy law. They will receive whatever they are entitled to based on the total value of the estate, regardless of the donations or gifts they received prior to the death of their parent.

Note that, as regards the children, the rules do not distinguish between surviving and non-surviving. This is because both living and deceased children are entitled to a share in the estate, in accordance with the rule mentioned above. The deceased children can be represented by their descendants. Their children, or any person authorized to represent them, can claim the respective shares of the non-surviving children [^5].

Furthermore, “Children” in the Intestate Succession Act means legitimate children and those validly adopted by virtue of a court order [^6]. An adopted child acquires the status of a legitimate child and is by all means legally entitled to the estate of his adopting parents [^7]. The adoptive child can no longer claim from the estate of his natural parents. This is because as far as the law is concerned, the child is no longer related to the natural parents.

Next are the parents. If the deceased’s spouse is still surviving, and so are both or one of their parents, the spouse gets half of the entire estate, while the other half goes to the parents of the deceased, provided that the person dying intestate has no children. If there is no surviving spouse or children, on the other hand, then parents are entitled to the entire estate. Each parent will receive one half, if both are surviving [^8].

In default or in the absence of a surviving spouse, surviving parents, or children, the estate of the deceased will go to the siblings. It will be divided in equal shares, if there is more than one sibling. In the same situation, however, in case the siblings are no longer living, then their children can represent them and claim the estate [^9]. These are the nieces and nephews of the deceased.

In default of a surviving spouse, children, parents, and siblings, then the estate will be distributed to the grandparents of the deceased. Each of the grandparents will receive half of the estate, if both are living [^10].

In the rare case wherein none of the first four in the priority list are present, namely spouse, children, parents, siblings, or grandparents, then the entire estate will be distributed to the aunts and uncles of the deceased [^11]. It will be distributed among them in equal proportions.

The law makes no distinction between relatives of a deceased on the father’s side and those of the mother. Relatives born during the lifetime of the deceased and those born subsequent to his death are also similarly situated [^12]. These people should not be treated differently, and are equal in the eyes of the Intestate Succession Act for the purpose of distribution of the estate of the deceased.

The only distinction that must be made is between those related to the deceased by full blood and those related by half blood. Half blood relatives rank after full blood relatives of the same degree [^13]. At the instance when the deceased has none of the relatives mentioned above, then the rules provide that his estate will be given to the Government of Singapore [^14].

Application of the Intestate Succession Act

The provisions of the Intestate Succession Act of Singapore apply to all its citizens, with only one exception. They do not apply to the estate of Muslims, or those of Islamic faith. This is because their rules are governed by the provisions of the Muslim law, which is based on their religion [^15].

Since they have their own rules governing intestate succession provided for by the Administration of Muslim Law Act, they cannot adopt the rules laid down by the Intestate Succession Act for the disposition of their estate. Instead, they must go to the Sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over matters of their inheritance.

The application of the rule also differs as to the type of asset or property. If it is movable property, the law that will apply is the law of the country where the owner is domiciled at the time of his death [^16]. It is the law of his nationality that will govern the movable property. Domicile means permanent residence. It is the place one considers home and has the intention to return there, even though they might reside somewhere else at a certain point in time. If the deceased was domiciled in Singapore at the time of death, then Singapore’s Intestate Succession Act will apply.

With respect to immovable property, on the other hand, the applicable law will be the law where the property is situated. So, if the immovable property is in Singapore, then that’s when the Intestate Succession Act will find its application. [^17]

Movable property or personal property, as its name implies, is property that can be moved from one place to another. As opposed to immovable property or real property, which is property that cannot be moved without altering or destroying it. A house, or a parcel of land, is classified as immovable property.

Who distributes?

The next of kin of the deceased should apply for a Grant of Letters of Administration. Pursuant to this, the court will appoint the next of kin as the administrator of the estate. An administrator distributes property according to the Intestate Succession Act. Without an administrator, no one will be allowed to dispose of the estate of the deceased. A child below 21 can also be appointed as administrator, but a guardian must represent him until he becomes of age.

If the administrator does not want to take charge of the estate of the deceased, they are not precluded from renouncing their title [^18]. They can do this either by signing a formal document of renunciation, or informally by word of mouth [^19]. In such a case, the court will appoint a new administrator. According to the Intestate Succession Act, the people who are allowed to apply for a grant, according to priority, are as follows: spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, grandparents, and lastly, uncles and aunts [^20].


Typically, a person can stipulate who his property will go to when they die. They can choose which asset, what proportion, how much, and to whom they want to transfer its ownership to. This is done through the drafting of a will. In order for a will to be executed, it must be written in accordance with the law of the State. In Singapore, it has to be in writing, executed by a person at least 21 years of age, and signed by the testator and at least 2 witnesses [^21].

Distribution Under a Will

A person who writes a will is called a testator. They must be of legal age and sound mind. Although the form of wills and its contents vary in different countries, it is known universally as a document that contains instructions on what a testator wants to happen to their property after they die. It also contains a list of liabilities or debts incurred by the deceased during their lifetime, and how they should be paid. A will is generally written and signed by the testator in the presence of and signed by witnesses. These witnesses cannot be the beneficiaries. Instead, they have to be disinterested persons, or persons who will receive no benefit from the will.

If the testator drafted a will, then they dictate the rules on distribution of their assets when they pass away. They can stipulate what assets and up to what proportion goes to the people they have selected to be beneficiaries.

Who distributes?

A testator who drafts a will should appoint an executor. An executor is a person specified in the will as the one appointed by the deceased to govern the management and disposition of their property after death. The appointed executor must apply for a Grant of Probate. This will allow them to enforce the provisions of the will. They carry out the will according to the instructions laid down by the testator. [^22]

Partial Probate

If the testator leaves a will for the disposition of parts or only some of their property, the law on intestate succession will apply with regards to the other properties not included in the will [^23].

Why You Should Prefer Wills Over the Intestate Succession Act

As to the rules on distribution and who distributes, there is no doubt that a will is more favorable than the default rules of the Intestate Succession Act. Although the law sets down clear and complete guidelines as to the disposition of assets without a will, there are two disadvantages to the default rules.

The first disadvantage is that the owner of the assets has no control whatsoever as to who their hard-earned money and property will go to. Without drafting a will, the distribution of the estate of the deceased will be left to the provisions of law, to be distributed by a person chosen by the court as administrator.

The second disadvantage is the provision in the Intestate Succession Act that in default of the persons mentioned in the rules, the estate of the deceased will be given to the Government. This is not favorable at all. Had the deceased drafted a will, they could have specified the person they wished to receive their assets.

In order to avoid the shortcomings of the law, drafting a will should be your first port of call. If what’s hindering you is that you don’t know how to write a will, there’s no need to keep postponing it. Willcraft provides online will writing services in Singapore to help those who want to draft their wills now.

[^1] As to the rules for distribution see the Intestate Succession Act s 7. [^2] Intestate Succession Act s 7 r 1 [^3] Intestate Succession Act s 7 r 2. [^4] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 9. [^5] See the Intestate Succession Act s 7 r 2-3. [^6] Ie under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 3. [^7] Ie pursuant to the Adoption of Children Act (Cap 4, 1985 Ed) s 7. [^8] Intestate Succession Act s 7 r 5. [^9] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 7 r 6. [^10] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 7 r 7. [^11] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 7 r 8. [^12] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 6(a). [^13] Intestate Succession Act s 6(b). [^14] Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 1985 Ed) s 7 r 9. [^15] Ie the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap 3, 1999 Ed). [^16] Intestate Succession Act s 4(1). [^17] See the Intestate Succession Act ss 4(2), 5. [^18] Probate and Administration Act (Cap 251, 2000 Ed) s 3(1) (as amended by the Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No 2) Act 2005 (Act 42 of 2005) s 5, Sch 1 para (28)(b)). [^19] Probate and Administration Act (Cap 251, 2000 Ed) s 3(2). [^20] See the Probate and Administration Act (Cap 251, 2000 Ed) ss 13 and 18. [^21] See the Wills Act ss 6-7; and [190.208]-[190.217]. [^22] Probate and Administration Act s 2. [^23] Intestate Succession Act s 10.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for general guidance and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a lawyer to seek legal advice that is specific to your needs.
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