Estate Settlement Process at Death
A wise saying goes: “death or tomorrow, which one comes first nobody knows”. This saying underlines a profound meaning about the suddenness of death. When death happens in your family, family members will often experience a state of denial and shock. When they finally accept the irrevocable situation, someone needs to settle the deceased person’s estate. This article will briefly describe the main estate settlement processes in general. You can refer to a detailed description of various estate settlement processes in other sections of this website.
Timeline: On the day of death
- Collect the death certificate and make many copies of it.
- If the deceased has outstanding hospital bills, apply to settle that through the deceased person’s CPF Medisave account (if applicable).
- Sort out funeral matters. In Singapore, funeral expenses are settled by cash on delivery. Have a serious discussion with your family members regarding the appropriate funeral arrangement, as funeral rites and arrangements can run into tens of thousands of dollars if not planned properly. Sometimes, the deceased person’s will may communicate the type of funeral arrangement he/she wanted.
One week after death
Settle deceased person’s financial matters:
- Inventorise deceased person’s assets and liabilities (if possible).
- Gather deceased person’s employment contract and employee handbook (if possible).
- Inform financial institutions, CPF and IRAS about the death.
- Call up the deceased person’s insurance agent to sort out life insurance claims.
- Meet up with deceased person’s company (HR department) to sort out outstanding salary and corporate benefits (if any).
- Locate deceased person’s will. A search can be done via will registry.
- Initiate application for a letter of administration or grant of probate (if necessary).
- If estate value is less than $50,000, you may contact Public Trustee office to administer the estate.
- Seek legal assistance.
- If the deceased was a business owner, initiate the liquidation of the business if there is no successor; or activate the succession plan (e.g. the buy-sell agreement) if there is one.
One month after death
- Follow up with the settlement processes. Sometimes multiple trips need to be made to various financial institutions.
- Keep an eye on the letters that are addressed to the deceased (especially bills). Rearrange GIRO facilities if necessary.
- Terminate services not needed, like handphone lines, internet etc.
- Give priority to mortgage and property settlement (especially if it involves the family home). Inform the mortgage bank that insurance proceeds are coming in to assure the bank of the continual credit worthiness of the surviving mortgagor. If there are no insurance proceeds, the surviving mortgagor needs to figure out which assets should to be liquidated in order to raise funds.
Six months after death
- You should expect to receive a letter of administration or grant of probate.
- The administrator or executor can start calling in assets and settling liabilities.
- Open a bank account under the estate’s name (i.e. “Estate of xxxxx”) to manage the estate settlement.
- Estate creditors will have the first priority to the estate. Subsequent priority will go to the beneficiaries named in a valid will. If there is no will, the distribution is to be done according to the Intestacy law.
- After rightful distribution is done, it is good practice for the administrator or executor to give an account of the estate settlement to the beneficiaries and seek concurrence from all beneficiaries before the estate is closed.
- Close the estate and move on.