It can be a real honour to be the executor of the will for a friend or family member, but the task can also be time-consuming and daunting.
Before you accept the responsibility, it’s helpful to understand what may be involved when the time comes. Read on to discover 10 of the key responsibilities you may have as the executor of a will in Singapore.
1. Locate the most recent will and obtain other important documents
The first responsibility you will need to take care of is to locate the most recent will that the deceased wrote before they died.
Often, a will is left in the possession of a family member or solicitor, but you may need to search further if this isn’t the case. If you are struggling to locate the will, you can use the Wills Registry to search online.
2. Organise the funeral according to the deceased’s wishes
While family members will usually organise the deceased’s funeral, the executor has the legal authority to make the final decision about arrangements.
The deceased may have left instructions in their will about their funeral. While these aren’t legally binding, they do provide a helpful outline so that you can be sure you’re arranging the funeral according to their wishes.
You must also take care to ensure that funeral costs are reasonable.
3. Value the estate and individual assets
The next step is to value the estate and the individual assets such as art, jewellery, and property. This can be challenging if the deceased held assets internationally or if their wealth was held in a lot of different accounts and assets.
It is important that the estate is valued accurately so that, where necessary, the appropriate amount of tax is paid. Of course, Inheritance Tax has been abolished in Singapore, but if the deceased held assets in other jurisdictions or was domiciled in another country, there may be some taxes due.
4. Identify any outstanding debts or liabilities
The estate might have some outstanding debts, taxes, or liabilities.
These might include:
- Credit card debt
- Medical expenses
- Income Tax bills
- Funeral bills
These outstanding debts will need to be settled before you can distribute the estate to the beneficiaries.
5. Apply for a “Grant of Probate”
Even if you are named as the executor in the will, you will need to apply to the courts for a “Grant of Probate”. This means that you are legally recognised as the executor and that you can carry out your duties.
You need to apply for this within six months of the deceased’s death, and the process can take around two to three months to complete.
When you apply, you’ll need to have a few documents to hand, including:
- The original will
- The “schedule of assets” outlining the total value of the estate and any debts and liabilities
- The “originating summons and statement for probate”
- The deceased’s death certificate.
You can learn more and apply for your Grant of Probate online on the Singapore Judiciary website and the fee can be in excess of $300 depending on the deceased’s specific circumstances.
6. Pay off the outstanding debts and taxes
After you have received your Grant of Probate, you can begin taking the necessary action to complete your duties as executor. The first of these is to settle any outstanding debts or liabilities you have identified.
After these debts have been settled, you have an accurate picture of the remaining assets that can be distributed to beneficiaries according to the deceased’s wishes in their will.
7. Give notice of your intention to distribute the deceased’s assets
While it’s not your legal obligation to do so, it may be wise to publish an intention to distribute the deceased’s assets before you begin, for example on the Government Gazette website.
This can give anyone who may have a claim to the estate the opportunity to come forward within two months so that their claim can be heard. After the grace period of two months has elapsed, you can then distribute the assets according to the will, knowing that there won’t be any challenges to this later on.
8. Distribute the assets according to the benefactor’s instructions
Once you have received the Grant of Probate and settled the debts on the estate, you can start to distribute the assets according to the instructions in the will.
In addition to the beneficiaries of the will, you may need to notify the respective institutions such as banks and investment platforms of the death.
9. Keep clear accounts of your actions as executor
For each step that you take as executor, it’s vital to keep accurate and clear records of your work. This includes financial transactions and communications with relevant authorities and third parties.
As well as making your work much easier by keeping note of the important details, this protects you as the executor. It enables you to demonstrate to the beneficiaries and the courts, where necessary, that you have taken appropriate steps to safeguard the estate and discharge your duties responsibly.
10. File all legal paperwork and close the estate
Any legal paperwork required during the process of executing the will is your responsibility. This might include filing tax returns, handling disputes between beneficiaries, and the final accounts for the estate.
After you have completed all of these duties, it is time to seek the court’s approval to close the estate. You must provide the final accounts for the estate showing the income, expenses, and distributions you have made – these must be approved by the beneficiaries.
Being an executor for a will can be time-consuming and complex
As you can see, the role of an executor can be complex and time-consuming. Consider your decision carefully before responding if a friend or family member asks you to be the executor for their will.
A few questions to ask yourself to help you to decide are:
- Am I likely to have the required time to dedicate to carrying out the necessary duties?
- How comfortable would I feel being responsible for safeguarding the estate during the probate process?
You are allowed to decline the invitation to act as executor, in which case the person who has asked would need to find someone else to take on the role.
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If you’d like to know how we can support you in creating your own estate plan or working towards your long-term financial goals as an expat in Singapore, please get in touch.