What happens when you die without a will? Who decides how your property is going to be divided? During the course of your life who will benefit from your hard work? Your children? Your spouse? Your ex-spouse?!! Maybe even your siblings?! If you watched a lot of TV dramas then scenes of a family dispute over a fortune are not new, perhaps you’re also plagued by the thought of that happening to your family. And finally, what do the words Intestate Succession Act have to do with all of this?

Meet the Intestate Succession Act!

Guess what happens when you die without a Will. The Government decides for you! They decide who gets who of the fortune you amassed. And they do it using the law referred to as the ISA. The Act applies to persons who die without a Will (intestate) while living in Singapore as a resident. So, if you die with a will and you’re a citizen of Singapore then the Act will handle how your assets are distributed. If you’re a foreigner living in Singapore and you own properties here, those properties will be under the Act as well. Dying intestate can also happen when the will you make is revoked or is invalid.

Do note that if you’re a Muslim the Act does not apply to you since Muslims have their own laws concerning inheritance.

Freezing of Assets and Appointing Administrators

You die without a will or dying intestate; all your assets will be frozen. It’s frozen because no one has the right to stand in your stead as owners of your properties. Court proceedings for the administration of your estate can range from weeks to months depending on the number of assets you have or the beneficiaries vying for your monies. Usually, the court appoints your closest relatives as your personal representatives. They can either be your spouse, your child, or your next of kin.

Contents of the Act (ISA)

The Act or ISA can be summed up into eight rules that govern how your estate will be divided when you die an intestate. These nine rules are known as the laws of intestacy and decide how intestate succession is handled.

Rule 1

You died without a will. Your parents are dead, and you have no children. But, you’re spouse survives you. According to the Act, your spouse gets everything. Even if you have a mistress or a sibling living somewhere, they get nothing. It all goes to your spouse.

Rule 2

If you died intestate had left behind a spouse and a child or children, then according to the Act they would inherit your estate. Your spouse is entitled to one-half of your estate. The remaining half will be divided among your children equally. Or, if you have only one child then the remaining half all to himself or herself.

Rule 3

A person dying without a will but leaves behind a spouse and descendants (children of children/ grandkids of great-grandkids) then one half goes to the spouse and the other half to be divided among the descendants. What this statement means is that, if you died an intestate and your spouse is still, but your children are dead, then your spouse gets half and the remaining half goes to your grandchildren. Note, that the inheritance goes to the descendant and not next of kin.  An example would be you have two kids. A daughter and a son. Your son dies, his share goes to his kids, if he has any, and not to your daughter. Any descendants that your son has, example a grandchild if your son’s child is also dead, inherits your son’s share.

Rule 4

If you died an intestate and left behind a spouse and parents but no children, then your estate will be divided among them. One half goes to your spouse. The other half will be divided equally between your parents.

Rule 5

If you died without a spouse and no will your parents become your heirs. Your estate will be divided equally among them.

Rule 6

A person dying intestate and leaves behind no spouse, children or parents makes his or her siblings as heirs. This means that if you died without a will, and your single with no living parents, your estate goes to your siblings. Orit goes to your sibling’s kids if your siblings are dead.

Rule 7

Having no spouse, children, parents or siblings then the estate goes to your grandparents. Your grandparents will divide the inheritance equally among them.

Rule 8

Dying intestate and having no spouse, children, parents, siblings or grandparents your estate according to the Act goes to your aunts and uncles. Equal distribution will be observed when dividing the inheritance.

Rule 9

If you died intestate and you have no relatives whatsoever, your whole estate will go to the Government.

Do note that illegitimate children are not recognised under the Act. And with this said, illegitimate children will inherit nothing from your estate if you died without a will.

Practice Estate Planning

If you don’t want to be told by the estate about who inherits your wealth, then you should do estate planning. Plan who gets what in your estate. Write a will. Or hire a Trust company. That way you can be sure that the Act does not meddle with the distribution of your assets.

Final Thoughts

The ISA is enacted for the purpose of having a guideline to follow when a person dies without a will. And understanding what rules it states and who can and who can’t inherit is vital, especially if you don’t have a will.

It’s better to be safe than sorry, and practising estate planning is better than dying intestate because it gives you the freedom to decide about what to do with what is yours.