Property Inheritance in Singapore: What You Need to Know
Traditionally, estate planning and property inheritance was viewed as taking steps during your lifetime to prepare for events after your death.
However, we strongly believe estate planning should be addressed holistically, with measures taken to ensure that you are taken care of in end-of-life scenarios as well as after death.
The reason for this is simple – most people assume that their current quality of life will remain static until they pass away. However, the reality is that as people age, their medical expenses are likely to rise, and if they are retired or no longer have a steady source of income, their quality of life may decline.
Therefore, steps should be taken early to mitigate issues.
This guide serves as a Property Inheritance Beginner’s Guide, answering all your frequently asked questions about property inheritance in Singapore. We’ll try to avoid jargon and provide clear and concise explanations.
What is Property Inheritance?
Property inheritance is the process of passing on property to another person after the owner’s death. The person who is entitled to a portion or share of the deceased’s property is known as the heir. Inheritance is typically written under the terms of a will.
Estate Planning: Mechanism and Tools
There are various legal tools that can be used for estate planning, the most common of which are:
- Power of Attorney (and Lasting Power of Attorney)
- AMD (Advance Medical Directive)
What is a Will?
A Will is a roadmap that provides instructions on how to distribute a person’s assets after the person’s death. The person making the Will is called the “testator”. The person appointed to distribute the assets is called the “executor”. The person(s) who are gifted the assets are the “beneficiaries”.
A Will must be made while you are alive and have mental capacity. It only crystallises (i.e. comes into effect and cannot be changed) after you pass away. It must be witnessed by two adults who are not beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries under the Will.
How will inheritance with and without a Will compare?
A legitimate will allows the owner of any property or land to pass it on to their heirs, according to their wishes. If the deceased did not write a will, the state’s intestacy laws will govern how their assets are dispersed.
The intestacy laws in Singapore are outlined in the Intestate Succession Act. However, these laws do not apply to Muslims, whose property distribution is governed by Islamic inheritance laws and the Syariah Court.
The laws of intestacy are relatively simple and are primarily based on two key factors: the relationship between the deceased and their beneficiaries, as well as the number of beneficiaries involved. You can find a summary of the entitlements of beneficiaries in the table below:
|Who lives?||Who is absent?||Who inherits?|
|Spouse||Children, parents||The spouse receives the entire estate.|
|Spouse, children||Parents||The estate is divided equally between the spouse and the children, with each child receiving an equal share.|
|Children||Spouse, parents||Each child receives an equal share. If a child has died, their children (the grandchildren) can claim their parent's share.|
|Spouse, parents||Children||The estate is divided equally between the spouse and the parents.|
|Parents||Spouse, children||The entire estate goes to the parents, divided equally between them.|
|Brothers and sisters (or children of the deceased brother or sister)||Spouse, children, parents||The estate is divided equally among the siblings, with each sibling receiving an equal share. If a sibling has died, their children can claim their share on their behalf.|
|Grandparents||Spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters||The grandparents divide the estate equally among themselves.|
|Uncles and aunts||Spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters, grandparents||The uncles and aunts divide the estate equally among themselves.|
|None||Everyone||The government gets 100%|
What about Joint Tenancy or Tenancy-in-Common?
Joint tenancy and tenancy-in-common are two forms of co-ownership in Singapore. Before we delve into the details, it’s important to understand the two types of co-ownership in Singapore: joint tenancy and tenancy-in-common. In a tenancy-in-common arrangement, each co-owner holds an “undivided share” in the property, meaning they have a distinct and separate portion of the land or property. In contrast, joint tenancy involves co-owners who do not have specific shares, but instead hold equal interests in the property.
In the case of joint tenancy, the surviving party inherits the property, and the rights of survivorship take precedence over any terms in a person’s will. In the case of tenancy-in-common, ownership of the property is transferred to the deceased’s beneficiaries either as per their will or, in its absence, in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act.
Are there any taxes involved when inheriting a property in Singapore?
There is no Property Inheritance Tax in Singapore since Estate Duty was abolished in 2008. In other words, if the property owner passed away before 15 Feb 2008, you do not have to incur any inheritance tax.
However, to avoid taxes, the property must be inherited in accordance with a will, intestate succession act, or the administration of Muslim Law Act. If the property is not distributed according to the aforementioned rules, it will be considered a gift or sale transfer, and may be subject to Buyer’s Stamp Duty (BSD) and Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty (ABSD).
For instance, if you inherit an HDB flat and then decide to purchase another property, you will be required to pay ABSD on the new property.
If the beneficiary wishes to dispose of the property in the future, Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD) may be applicable. If the inherited property was acquired after 20 February 2010 and is sold within the specified time frame, SSD may need to be paid.
Can I inherit a property if I own an HDB or private property?
If you own an HDB and wish to inherit another HDB, you must sell one of the two flats within six months of taking ownership of the inherited flat. On the other hand, if you inherit a private property and own an HDB flat, you can retain ownership of both properties if your HDB flat is no longer within the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) and you are a Singapore citizen.
If you are a non-Singapore citizen, you can only inherit a non-landed private property, unless you obtain approval from the Land Dealings Approval Unit (LDAU). If you own a private property and want to inherit an HDB, you can keep both properties if the inherited property is a non-subsidised HDB flat bought before 30th August 2010. Otherwise, you’re required to sell one of the properties. Private property owners who want to inherit another private property can keep both properties.
How do I start the inheritance process?
To begin the inheritance process, you need to submit an application to inherit a property. Non-Muslims can find the form on the Family Justice Court’s website, while Muslims can find it on Syariah Court Singapore’s website. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the inheritance laws that apply to your specific situation, and you may want to engage a lawyer or property agent like myself experienced with inheritance cases to help you with the process.
Property inheritance can be a complex topic. It is important to determine whether there is a will and to understand the relevant inheritance laws. If you find the process overwhelming, it may be helpful to seek legal advice or engage a property agent with experience in inheritance cases.