Civil Law Act

Civil Law Act


Section 4: Administration of insolvent estates, and winding up of companies. Bankruptcy rules to prevail

This law gives more weightage on debt over estate distribution to the deceased’s intended beneficiaries. Estate creditors have higher priority over estate beneficiaries.

Section 10: Effect of death on certain causes of action

This law states that the death of any person, all causes of action subsisting against or vested in him shall survive against or for the benefit of his estate. Therefore, when a person dies during the course of a law suit, the damage awarded for or against the death person will be vested on his estate.

Section 20: Right of action for wrongful act causing death

This law states that if death is caused by any wrongful act, neglect or default. An injured person has the right to maintain an action and recover damages from the person liable. The right of action can continue even if the injured person dies. Every such action shall be for the benefit of the dependants of the deceased.

Dependant means –

  1. The wife or husband or former wife of the deceased;
  2. Any parent, grandparent or great-grandparent of the deceased;
  3. Any child*, grandchild or great-grandchild of the deceased;
  4. Any person (not being a child of the deceased) who, in the case of any marriage to which the deceased was at any time a party, was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage;
  5. Any person who is, or is the issue of, a brother, sister, uncle or aunt of the deceased.

(*Illegitimate child and step child have legal standing under this law. They are treated as child)

Every action brought under this section shall be brought by and the executor or administrator of the deceased. The time line for bringing up such an action is 3 years after the death of the deceased person.

The executor of the deceased may insert a claim for and recover any pecuniary loss to the estate of the deceased occasioned by such wrongful act, neglect or default. The sum recovered shall be deemed part of the assets of the estate of the deceased.

Section 21: Bereavement

Any action under section 20 (see above) may consist of or include a claim for damages for bereavement; however such claim shall only be for the benefit of the following persons who survive the deceased:

  • The wife or husband of the deceased;
  • Where there is no spouse, the children of the deceased;
  • Where there is no spouse or children, the parents of the deceased or, if the deceased was illegitimate, his mother;
  • Where there is no spouse or children or parents, and if the deceased was a minor, any person during any marriage who treated the deceased as a child of the family in relation to that marriage;
  • Where there is no person from item (a) to (d), any brother or sister of the deceased.

The sum to be awarded as damages under this section shall be $15,000.


Section 22: Assessment of damages

In every action brought under section 20 (see above item 3), the court may award damages proportioned to the losses resulting from the death to the dependants respectively. It is important to note that in assessing the damages the following shall not be taken into account:

  • Any sum paid or payable on the death of the deceased under any contract of assurance or insurance;
  • Any sum payable as a result of the death under the Central Provident Fund Act (Cap 36); or
  • Any pension or gratuity which has been or will or may be paid as a result of the death.

The principal factor of considering the damages is any money or other benefits which the deceased would likely to have given to the dependants by way of maintenance, gift, bequest or devise or which the dependants would to have likely to have received from the deceased if he is alive.

Implication of Section 20 – 22 of Civil Law Act to estate planning

The next-of-kin and the legal personal representative of the deceased should examine their rights if the deceased dies as a result of wrongful act by another party.


Section 24: Executor deemed to be trustee for person entitled to residue on intestacy

This law states that an executor named in a will of a deceased shall be deemed to be a trustee for the beneficiary of the deceased’s estate on the residue not expressly disposed of by the will.


Section 25: Executor of executor represents original testator

An executor of a sole or last surviving executor of a testator is the executor of that testator.


Section 26: Devisee of land not to claim payment of mortgage debt out of movable property

Assuming Peter dies, and leaves a property (with mortgage) to his son, John. And Peter’s will never specifically identify a movable property to discharge the mortgage. John shall not be entitled to have the mortgage debt discharged or satisfied out of the movable property or any other immovable property of the deceased.

In the construction of the will of any person, a general direction that the debts of the testator shall be paid out of his personal estate shall not be deemed a declaration of an intention to discharge debt in this section.

Implication of section 26 of Civil Law to estate planning:

Therefore, it is important to state in the will the source of fund (usually through a life insurance policy) to discharge the mortgage debt.


Section 27: Bona vacantia

When a person dies without next-of-kin, and the deceased’s estate has accrued to the Government; it shall be lawful for the Minister, by warrant, to order the transfer of the whole or any part of such estate to any person(s) who can establish an equitable or moral claim.


Section 30: Presumption of survivorship in regard to claim to property

In all cases where 2 or more persons die at the same time, the younger shall be deemed to have survived the elder for purpose of affecting the title to property.


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