By Phyllis Lee
Anyone can draft a will for themselves in Singapore, as long as they meet a list of criteria.
A will is a legal document containing instructions for the distribution of one’s assets upon death. Without a will, the distribution of your assets will be handled by the state. Hence, a will ensures that any special wishes you have will be carried out without any confusion or disputes within your family.
However, there are a few key points to note for your will to be respected by the law.
1) Register your will with the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office
Depositing information about your will to the Wills Registry, maintained by the Public Trustee, makes it easier to establish its validity. While the registry does not record the actual contents of your will, testators or the appointed lawyers can submit details such as the location and date of the will.
2) Write a new will after marriage
Your will is automatically revoked upon marriage, unless its contents already takes marriage into consideration. This is because the law assumes that you would want to provide for your new family, which is why you should re-indicate who you would like your assets to go to.
On the other hand, divorce does not render a previous will invalid. Thus, you should also make a new will after divorce to ensure that your assets bequeathed to your ex-spouse will be distributed according to your current wishes.
3) Not all assets can be included in your will
Firstly, properties held in joint tenancy are not part of your estate. Upon death, they will be passed on to the surviving co-owners. This is known as the right of survivorship. You can only include your share of the property in the will if you are under the tenancy-in-common scheme.
Similarly, money from joint savings accounts will be transferred to the surviving account co-holders.
Insurance policies with a nominated beneficiary also cannot be included in a will.
Likewise, savings from your Central Provident Fund (CPF) are not covered in a will. If you want to indicate how to distribute your CPF savings, you have to make a nomination. A CPF nomination allows you to specify who will receive the savings upon your demise, and how much each nominee should receive.
Without a CPF nomination, your CPF savings will be distributed by the Public Trustee’s Office (PTO) under the Intestate Succession Act or the Certificate of Inheritance (for Muslims).
Distribution of CPF savings: Common pitfalls
Mr Lim Yew Seng, 59, whose wife passed away this April, is one of the many who is facing a problem with the distribution of CPF savings.
His late wife, Mdm How Mei Lin, first made a CPF nomination in 1981. After she tied the knot with Mr Lim in 1993, she did not make another nomination. Like a will, CPF nominations are automatically revoked by marriage, and requires a new nomination.
Unaware about this legal clause, Mdm How simply left all her assets to Mr Lim in her will. The couple does not have any children.
According to the PTO, as Mdm How did not make any valid nomination for her CPF monies, her aged parents and husband will receive half of the savings each.
This puts Mr Lim, who has been providing for his wife since they got married, at a disadvantage.
Mdm How’s relationship with her parents and siblings has been strained for several years due to quarrels over money. Last year, she developed health issues and was later diagnosed with metastatic lung carcinoma.
Still, she refused to tell her aged parents about her condition because she didn’t want to alarm them.
When her family finally found out about her illness, they blamed Mr Lim for keeping it from them. This caused their relationship to further deteriorate.
Therefore, Mdm How’s medical and funeral expenses were borne solely by Mr Lim, who had also stepped down from his job last year to take care of her at home. He has already spent about $30,000 on her funeral expenses, which include all the necessary rituals and prayers for Buddhists. This is not taking into account the additional costs he would have to bear leading up her first death anniversary.
Mr Lim also claims that there is a discrepancy in her CPF nomination records. Records as recent as 2010 stated that she made a nomination on 23 February 1981. This was almost two decades after her marriage.
Records in 2015 then stated that her CPF nomination has been revoked by marriage.
The ambiguous notice about Mdm How’s CPF nomination status angered Mr Lim. In an interview with The Independent on Tuesday (5 September), he cried out in anguish:
“How do we know if it’s revoked? When they revoked her CPF nomination, they should have asked her for a re-nomination. She wasn’t informed about it being revoked. It’s their responsibility to tell us. It’s like a bank. If a bank wants to do something to my money, my rights, they have to inform me first.”
Having been the sole provider for Mdm How since she became his family, it is only natural for him to be the one receiving her CPF monies to plan for his own upcoming retirement. He has been in contact the PTO since May, but nothing has come to a resolution yet.
For people uninformed about such laws in Singapore, it’s best to start reading up and making sure that your assets will be distributed well – including those that cannot be covered in your will.