International Inheritance Laws


My first introduction to Singapore was an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the travel channel. This episode highlighted what Singapore is known for; “humidity, great street food (especially famous for chicken and rice), enforcing a strict narcotics ban, and legalized prostitution.”[1] Albeit the latter reflected some legal aspects of the Singaporean culture, it omitted Inheritance laws. Inheritance laws can provide an intimate perspective on a society. While researching Singapore’s intestacy laws I discovered; burial rituals, who can create a will, and what happens when a person does not have a will.

One burial ritual I discovered was on The Changi Museum’s website. Singaporeans that reside in the Changi replicated how they honor decedents who were Prisoners of War (POW), during the Japanese invasion, with an exhibit entitled “Chapel”. The Changi Museum website provides visitors with a virtual tour of their museum, use this link to experience the “Chapel” exhibit first hand: “This modest exhibit features a gold-toned cross, said to be fashioned out of spent artillery shells.”[2] At first glance the cross looked like any cross I have seen in the past but with a closer inspection, I noticed  a circle in the center and for each thin rectangle, there was a clover shaped ending. After someone is buried, it is imperative to know their wishes, what better way than with a will.

According to Singapore’s Mental Capacity Act, a person’s testamentary capacity can be determined by the following: Age 21 (unless employed by the military or in a life- threating profession) and having a sound mind and body. There are two circumstances where the Singaporean Mental Capacity Act can be excluded: If a citizen is Muslim or if they reside in a country other than Singapore and their will was created in that country. Muslim citizens would use Faraid, or Muslim Inheritance Law while the individual “domiciled outside Singapore would use that country’s law on testamentary capacity.”[3]

The Islamic laws or Shari’ah Laws, that governs Muslim estate distribution is located in part VII of the Administration of Muslim Law Act, 1966 (‘AMLA’). This section indicates that after July 1, 1968, no Muslim resident of Singapore should use a Will or any document stemming from English law to dispose of property, instead Faraid must be utilized.

According to The Law Society of Singapore’s Website, “The majority of Singaporeans have not made any Will.” For those who do have wills, lawyers are not required to create them as long as the testator is at least 21 or falls into the category for the exception.[4] Although lawyers are unnecessary to create wills, it is strongly recommended to hire an attorney since many wills created without them are seen as illegitimate. When a Singaporean dies, their bank accounts and joint accounts become suspended along with all transactions involving their assets. The Singaporean legal system has established The Intestate Succession Act for decedents that pass away without a will. Individuals that expect to receive a gift from the estate of the decedent must nominate an Administrator(s) to be chosen by the court. The deceased’s assets can only be transferred after the court provides a Letter of Administration, hiring an attorney is recommended for this procedure. When comparing The Intestate Succession Act compared to New York State laws of Intestacy, since both laws are based mainly on English law, I have found many similarities. Some similarities are if the person dies intestate with the following surviving them:

  1.      Spouse  (no parents or issue) receives entire estate.
  2.      Parents (no spouse or issue) receives entire estate.
  3.      Grandparents (no spouse, issue, parents or sibling) receives entire estate.
  4.      Uncles and Aunts (no spouse, issue, parents, siblings or grandparents)- receives entire estate.
  5.      No qualifying relatives then government receives entire estate.
  6.     Siblings (no spouse, issue or parents) receives entire estate before Grandparents.

While the following areas of the law is different:

  1.      Spouse and Issue (with or without parents), share 50:50.
  2.      Spouse, Parents (no issue), share 50:50.

Like New York Laws of Intestacy, “the Intestate Succession Act was not enacted to create “fair” distribution.[5] For decedents that have died testate, an Executor has already been appointed, this individual is responsible for applying to the court for a Grant of Probate.[6] The Grant of Probate allows assets to be distributed. I was able to locate a Singaporean law firm online that specializes in probate legal transactions in addition to other areas of law, their website is

Loh Eben Ong & Partners’ Probate Practice Group defined and explain the circumstances surrounding the following: Grant of Probate, Grant of Letters of Administration, Resealing of Commonwealth Grant and Foreign Domiciled Deceased in great detail on their website. The Loh Eben Ong & Partners’ website includes contact information, frequently asked questions along with other areas of law that they specialize in.

I found observing a Singaporean burial ritual and becoming versed in intestacy laws was informative, insightful and very interesting.


[2] The Changi Museum Website, (March 11, 2013 8:56PM),

[3] Faraid or Muslim Inheritance Law, The Law Society of Singapore’s Website (March 11, 2013 8:40PM),

[4] Making a Will, The Law Society of Singapore’s Website (March 11, 2013 8:14 PM),

[5] Faraid or Muslim Inheritance Law, The Law Society of Singapore’s Website (March 11, 2013 8:40PM),

[6] Loh Eben Ong & Partners’ Probate Practice Group, Probate and Administration of Estates, Loh Eben Ong & Partners’ Probate Practice Group Website (April 13, 2013, 11:25 PM),