There is an article on 30 April 2011 Straits Times page D2 entitled “In sickness & in death” on the predicament suffered by foreign brides when their Singaporean husbands died. In that story was a Chinese national by name of Madam Xiao Huxian whose Singaporean husband died of lung cancer. He left behind Madam Xiao, Jiabao who is their only Down Syndrome son and his 25-years old daughter from previous marriage.
Under the Intestate Succession Act, the deceased’s estate is to be distributed to 50% to spouse and 50% in equal share to children. Therefore, Madam Xiao and her son are entitled to three-quarter of the estate worth at least $200,000. Well, that is only on theory because in life what happens in practice and in theory are often not the same. The following are the obstacles:
- Because there is a minor beneficiary involved, Singapore’s law required two administrators. While Madam Xiao can be one of the Administrators, she is unable to find a next-of-kin in Singapore to be the other Administrator. Without being able to find another Administrator, they will not be able to obtain the Letter of Administration.
- The newspaper did not mention another obstacle that I foresee. Madam Xiao also needs to find two sureties because there is a minor. This is going to be extremely difficult because each surety must have assets that worth the total value of the decease’s estate. Of course, the role of the surety is to guarantee that the minor’s interest is looked after.
- In the meantime, Madam Xiao also faced a storm of opposition from her decease’s husband siblings and his daughter of first marriage. Besides the emotional pain of being in bad terms with relatives, the implication is that the deceased’s daughter is not likely going to renounce her rights to be the Administrator.
- In the newspaper report, Madam Xiao managed to find a volunteer lawyer (via a Meet-the-People session. BTW, it was very nice of the MP to help foreigners like her) who is willing to be the second Administrator. From what I see, if the deceased’s daughter refused to consent for the lawyer to be the Administrator, the process is going to stall.
I also read in the newspaper that the Madam Xiao’s husband did a DIY video Will bequeathing his flat to her and her son on his deathbed. Well, the DIY video Will was not valid in Singapore’s court.
What are the lessons to learn?
- The above can happen if the surviving spouse is also Singaporean. The problems faced by Madam Xiao is not unique to Chinese national living in Singapore. She faces problems NOT because she is a Chinese national but because there was no proper estate planning. This means that even a Singaporean wife with a minor must get a second Administrator and two sureties and potentially enter into a battlefield with the deceased’s siblings over property and assets. Therefore, even if both persons are Singaporeans they MUST do estate planning. Estate planning isn’t optional.
- The situation is even more acute if the surviving spouse is a foreigner in Singapore where there is no relative for support. Just a few weeks ago, I asked my legal counsel on any potential issues for Chinese national residing in Singapore to write a Will. I was told that it is best that PRC who stays in Singapore writes a Singapore-only Will. This means that the Will should NOT be covering worldwide assets. The reason is because the laws in China with regard estate distribution is not known.
- For those who are divorced and have a child from previous marriage, estate planning can potentially be more complicated. That is why I charged an additional estate planning fee for those who are divorced with children.
- Finally, never "act smart" by doing your own DIY Will. It is not worth saving a few pennies doing it yourself.
This article also appears here http://www.cpf.gov.sg/imsavvy/blog_post.asp?postid=59710613-236-7322198747
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