Dealing with death can be one of the most painful things that you will ever experience. In the midst of your profound grief, you may feel as if your world has stopped momentarily, but the world around you continues to spin relentlessly requiring you to turn your attention to post-death practical matters. In these moments, it is important to realise that you are not alone and that there is support all around you.
We have written this post to assist and support you in dealing with the post-death practical and administrative matters. We hope that the information here will be useful in helping to lessen your burden as you go through this difficult period of grief.
Certifying the death - CCOD
First, you will need to obtain an official Certificate of the Cause of Death (CCOD). This is a document that certifies that the individual’s death resulted from known and natural causes. This process may vary depending on where the death occurred.
If the deceased passed away in a hospital, a doctor at that hospital will record the death and issue a CCOD.
If the deceased passed away at home, you should contact a doctor who is willing to make a house call – the doctor will be able to issue a CCOD if he/she is able to certify the cause of death. If you are unable to contact a doctor to make a house call, you will need to contact the police who will head down to the location where the death occurred. The body of the deceased will be sent to the mortuary for a pathologist to determine the cause of death, and the police will contact you to identify the body in the presence of a coroner.
Registering the death - Death Certificate
With the CCOD and identification documents of yourself and the deceased (e.g. passport, NRIC, birth certificate etc.), you will be able to register the death and obtain a Death Certificate which formally declares the death of an individual.
You can register the death of the deceased with your local police post or The Registry of Births and Deaths, and this must be done within 24 hours of passing.
After you obtain the CCOD and the death certificate, you will be able to start making funeral arrangements. You may wish to engage a funeral director from the Association of Funeral Directors (Singapore) to guide you through this process. Generally, the following steps will need to be taken: (i) collecting the body of the deceased; (ii) sending the body for embalming (if necessary); and (iii) transferring the body to the location of the wake. If the deceased had written a will, you may want to refer to the deceased’s will as he or she might have left specific instructions regarding his or her funeral arrangements (under the funeral clause).
Estate Matters: There is no Will
If the deceased died without a will, his or her assets will be distributed to surviving relatives in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act. You will need to apply to the court to obtain a Grant of Letters of Administration.
Letters of Adminstration
The deceased’s next-of-kin may apply to the court for a Grant of Letters of Administration, allow the court to appoint someone as the administrator and distribute the deceased’s estate in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act.
Appointing an Adminstrator
An administrator is assigned by the probate court to be legally responsible for distributing and handling the deceased’s estate, with the understanding that there is no will and that the administrator is volunteering their time to handle the estate. In general, the courts will prefer a next-of-kin to act as an administrator. The Intestate Succession Act clearly states in order of priority the following relatives:
At least 2 administrators (or a trust corporation) must be appointed if one or more beneficiaries of the estate is a minor (i.e. below 21). Infants or anyone who has filed for bankruptcy may not act as an administrator. If an infant is entitled to a grant, a guardian will also be appointed.
In most cases, the administrator is entitled to some form of compensation for their time as this process can take up to a year to complete, including court fees for the Letters of Administration. Once the estate has been dissolved completely and to the satisfaction of the probate court, the administrator will be released from his or her duties are done and they are released. Inappropriate handling of the estate may result in the administrator being charged by the court.
Legal Matters: There is a Will
If the deceased had a valid will, the will should have specified a person to act as the executor of the estate. The executor will be responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will. Therefore, if you have written a will, it is important to let your executor know where the latest will is kept so that they know where to retrieve it.
Grant of Probate
If you have been named as an executor in the deceased’s will, you will need to give the court all relevant documents (including the original will) to apply for the Grant of Probate. This allows you to take actions necessary to administer the estate, including determining the total liabilities and assets of the deceased and extracting the Grant of Probate.
Contesting the Will
A will must comply with the provisions of the Wills Act. If it does not, the will may be contested by a dependant of the deceased (i.e. spouse or child, but must not be an illegitimate child), and the court will determine if the will is partially or wholly invalid. If the court declares a will wholly invalid, it will be taken to mean that no will exists at all – as a result, the deceased’s estate will be distributed in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act. In this regard, having experienced professionals to guide you through the will writing process and advise you in areas which you do not understand will ensure that you are able to draft a valid will that accurately and comprehensively addresses your estate planning needs and reduce the possibility of the will being contested in the future.
In addition, someone may also contest the naming of a specific administrator or executor. They will file a caveat with the court. The Registrar of the court will inform the party filing the caveat if any attempt is made to obtain a grant of letters of representation.
What if there is a will but you cannot find it?
If you are aware that your loved one has made a will but you have not been able to find it anywhere, you may try retrieving information regarding his or her will from the Wills Registry. This will only work if the deceased had chosen to deposit information with the Wills Registry for a fee, and such information includes who drew up the will, the date of the will, and the location of the will.
If you are able to locate a copy or draft of the will but not the original will, you may apply to the court to grant probate of a copy or draft of the will until the original will is found, or the will’s contents if such contents can be sufficiently established without such copies or drafts of the will.
If you are still unable to locate the original will or copies of it, the deceased estate will be distributed as if there is no will as discussed above.
Handling the Estate: Executor or Adminstrator
The executor or administrator will be expected to contact the lawyers and provide certain information and documents about the deceased and next-of-kin. This includes the original will, death registration certificate, birth certificates, marriage certificates, identification documents of all beneficiaries, as well as documents relating to the assets of the deceased.
With these information and documents, the executor or administrator (with the assistance of the lawyer) will be responsible for the following:
Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult. In the midst of grief, loved ones who are left behind will still need to deal with post-death administrative and legal matters. It is always easier and more straightforward if the deceased left behind a written will with a designated executor. That is why we encourage you to write a will so that you are able to record and leave behind clear instructions and wishes for your loved ones in the unfortunate event of your death.