With Singapore’s status as an international financial centre and its traditional role as an open port city, there are an increasing number of non-Singaporeans who have worked in Singapore for several years and have accumulated assets whether in the form of money in bank accounts, securities such as shares and bonds or real property such as condominium units. Such people may subsequently move elsewhere but continue to hold assets in Singapore. Other foreigners, global citizens and non-Singaporeans actively choose to place their assets within Singapore’s jurisdiction for political, regulatory or tax reasons or simply to seek a better return on their assets.
A key issue for the asset holder, and the family or business partners of such asset holders is how their assets in Singapore may be transferred to the appropriate person when they pass away outside of Singapore.
If the asset holder passes away in a Commonwealth country and a grant of letters of probate or letters of administration is subsequently obtained in that country, this grant from a Commonwealth country can be presented in Singapore for “re-sealing”. The above-mentioned grant is a court order recognising a particular person or persons as the lawful executors or administrators of the deceased’s estate. Once this grant has been successfully re-sealed in Singapore, that means that such persons who are named in the foreign grant are also recognised as the lawful executors or administrators of the deceased’s assets in Singapore. The executors or administrators can then proceed to deal with the deceased person’s assets in Singapore.
If the asset holder passes away in non-Commonwealth country, the “re-sealing” process does not apply. Persons who wish to deal with the deceased person’s assets in Singapore would have to apply for a fresh grant in Singapore. If the deceased person has a will which was previously executed in Singapore in respect of the Singapore assets, the application for a grant of probate would for the most part follow the same process as for someone who has passed away in Singapore. Such a process would be relatively straightforward.
If the deceased person does not have a will in Singapore, the process would be more lengthy and complicated. A fresh grant for letters of administration would have to be applied for which in itself entails more paperwork as compared to an application for a grant of letters of probate. A sworn statement from a foreign solicitor may have to be obtained stating that the persons who wish to deal with the deceased’s assets in Singapore are the persons who have the legal right to do so. The deceased assets may also pass on to unintended recipients. In the absence of a will, the lawful recipients may be determined by the Intestate Succession Act which prioritises immediate family members such as the deceased person’s lawful spouse or children. Assuming that such hurdles are overcome and that a grant of letters of administration is obtained, the persons named as administrators may then proceed to deal with the deceased person’s assets in Singapore
The takeaway point from this article is this. In the interests of prudent estate planning, foreigners, non-Singaporeans and global citizens who hold assets in Singapore, should have a will prepared in respect of their Singapore assets. Such a will would ideally include a schedule of assets clearly listing the assets owned in Singapore with the necessary amount of detail. As a side note, we would mention that, contrary to popular belief, a will does not have international effect. An asset holder who would like to be assured that his or her assets pass on to their intended recipients should have a will prepared for each jurisdiction that he or she holds significant assets in.
Should you have any questions about the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we would be happy to assist you.