Should an expatriate make a Will in Singapore?
Author: Patrick Tan and Andrew Wong
- Benjamin Franklin once said that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. However successful you are in this life, it is inevitable that you will one day pass away and leave loved ones behind on this Earth. Given the unpredictability of life, it is imperative that you make arrangements to provide for your loved ones after your demise. One practical step you can take is to make a Will, so that your assets may be distributed to your desired beneficiaries in an efficacious manner.
- A tricky question then arises as to whether as a foreign expatriate in Singapore, you should also make a Will here. Many of your assets could well be located in your home country or across the globe. You may also be unsure as to the permanence or transience of your stay in Singapore. Regardless, it is still desirable for you to write a Will here.
A Singapore Will would facilitate the easy distribution of assets in Singapore
- First and foremost, a lawyer drafting your Will in Singapore would most certainly include, minimally, your Singapore assets into the contents of the Will. As an expatriate working and living here, you would likely have accumulated some assets locally, including monies in local bank accounts, shares and immovable property.
- In the event of your unexpected or premature demise during your sojourn in Singapore, a Will would allow for these assets located in Singapore to be distributed fairly easily to your beneficiaries. The executor(s) appointed by your Will can apply to court for a grant of probate which will then entitle him or her to distribute the assets in accordance with the terms of your Will.
- Thus, one key reason why you should make a Will in Singapore is because it would allow for your assets accumulated here to be distributed expeditiously, especially in the unfortunate event that you pass away suddenly and have dependents to provide for here.
- However, you should be cautious that if you come from a civil law country or a country where there is forced heirship laws such as France, then the manner in which your assets are distributed under your Will in Singapore may be subject to the forced heirship laws in your home country. There may also be inheritance taxes or estate duties which your home country may impose on your assets in Singapore.
Single Will or Multiple Wills?
- The next question that arises then relates to whether a Will made in your home country can deal with your Singapore assets and vice versa i.e. whether a Will made in Singapore can deal with your assets in your home country.
A Will made in a Commonwealth jurisdiction can be re-sealed in another Commonwealth jurisdiction
- If you have made a Will in your home country, and your home country is a Commonwealth jurisdiction such as the United Kingdom, Australia or Canada, and most of your assets are within the said jurisdiction, you would be pleased to know that your Will made in your home country will allow for a grant of probate obtained from your home country to be “re-sealed” in Singapore. “Re-sealing” means that there is no need to commence a fresh probate action in Singapore.
- Instead, an executor who has been appointed under the Will made in your home country and who has obtained a grant of probate in your home country can go to the Singapore courts to have the grant of probate obtained in your home country recognized in Singapore.
- Once the Singapore courts have re-sealed the grant of probate obtained in your home country, your appointed executor would have the powers to distribute your assets located in Singapore as per the terms of your Will made in your home country.
- That being said, there are some practical disadvantages for resealing procedures. As a start, the administrative fees payable to the Singapore courts for resealing procedures are usually higher compared to the fees payable for the application of a fresh grant of probate in the Singapore courts. Also, the time taken to administer the assets in Singapore may take longer, as it is common for your executor to apply for the grant of probate in your home country, and to distribute those assets in your home country first, before engaging lawyers in Singapore to reseal the grant of probate in Singapore.
- Given these practical disadvantages, it is becoming commonplace for expatriates, especially those who come from the Commonwealth jurisdictions, to also make a Will in Singapore over and above the Wills which they have made in the home country. One key advantage of having two or more separate Wills are that when you pass away, these Wills can be executed concurrently and your beneficiaries can gain access to all your assets in the different countries much quicker. Specifically, separate fresh grants of probates can be applied for and obtained at the same time at the courts in the different countries, thereby saving time and enjoying lower administrative fees payable to these courts.
Multiple Wills for multiple jurisdictions?
- However, if your home country is not a Commonwealth jurisdiction, the position becomes a little more complex and it is definitely prudent from an estate and legacy planning viewpoint for you to have multiple Wills to deal with the assets located in the different jurisdictions.
- Different states would have their own laws regarding the validity of foreign Wills and their own rules regarding the content of Wills. Generally, outside of Commonwealth jurisdictions, there is usually no option to get a Singapore grant of probate re-sealed.
- Instead, you would have to apply for a fresh grant of probate or court order in the said jurisdiction. This comes with its own attendant complexities, as non-common law jurisdictions, such as civil law or sharia law states, may have vastly different rules from Singapore and other common law regimes regulating the content of Wills.
- For example, civil law jurisdictions such as France are known to restrict testamentary freedom by putting limits on the proportion of an estate which the deceased dispose of via a Will. This is called forced heirship laws. Civil law countries also often do not have the concept of an executor, and assets devolve onto beneficiaries by an automatic operation of law.
- In such circumstances, it may be advisable to make jurisdiction-specific Wills. As discussed in the preceding paragraphs, you may make a Singapore Will for your assets in Singapore, and a Will back home (or in other non-common law jurisdictions in which you may have assets) to govern the assets there.
- This approach would perhaps be advisable for expatriates who hail from non-Commonwealth countries or who have assets in many different countries including non-common law ones. Such an approach would better ensure that your various assets in different jurisdictions can be efficiently distributed to your desired beneficiaries upon your death.
- Wherever you come from, the basic advantage of making a Will in Singapore remains – it can facilitate the efficient distribution of your assets here. Uncertainty about how long you will remain in Singapore should also not inhibit you from making a Will here, as you can always revoke any Will you have made in future. Indeed, making a Will here would guard against the financial fallout from your sudden or unexpected demise, and is a relatively cost-efficient measure you can take to ensure your loved ones are cared for.
Written by: Patrick Tan and Andrew Wong
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