How to write a Will
Updated: Apr 9, 2021
This article will cover:
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that indicates your instructions on how to distribute your estate (your money, property, possessions and other assets) after your death.
Do note that a will does not cover CPF savings. Hence, in addition to making a will, you should also make a CPF nomination to ensure that your CPF savings goes to the intended beneficiaries after your death.
What happens if you die without a valid will?
Division of assets under the Intestate Succession Act (for non-Muslims)
If a person passes on without a will, the person is said to have died intestate. The deceased's estate will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act for non-Muslims or the Administration of Muslim Law Act and Syariah Law for Muslims. This means that the assets may not be distributed in a manner the deceased would have wanted.
Division of assets under the Syariah Law (for Muslims)
Who can write a will?
Anyone who is over 21 years old and of sound mind can make a will. If you are the person making a will, you will be known as the testator.
What should you include in your will?
A list of all your liabilities
You will need to list down all your debts (e.g. credit card debts, loans, taxes) and how you want your debts to be paid off. Debts need to be paid off before assets can be distributed.
(If the deceased holds a joint personal loan or a mortgage that is co-signed with someone, that person will then have to assume the deceased's responsibilities to pay off the debt as the sole debtor.)
A list of all your assets
This could include your:
Items e.g. antiques, art collection
Do note that a jointly-owned bank account or house cannot be devised by a will. The surviving bank account holder will be entitled to the credit balance in the joint account. The surviving home owner will be transferred the ownership of the house after lodging a Notice of Death with the Singapore Land Authority (the Notice of Death can either be lodged by an individual or by engaging the services of a lawyer).
Beneficiaries of your estate
These will be the people you would like to allocate your assets to and the amount you would like them to receive. You can decide to allocate each beneficiary a percentage of your estate or allocated specific assets to individual beneficiaries.
Your assets can be transferred in the form of gifts of through trusts:
Gifts involve the transfer of ownership of the asset from the giver to the receiver.
A trust involves a third person ('trustee') who takes ownership of the assets and manages them in the interest of your beneficiaries - this could be useful in instances when the beneficiaries of your will are too young or mentally incapable of handling money matters. However, do note that setting up a trust involves recurring fees and expenses over time and this will reduce the value left behind for the beneficiary.
Your can include reserve beneficiaries to receive assets in the event that one of your beneficiaries pass on before you are able to amend your will. If the beneficiaries are under 21 years of age, you will need to nominate two executors or trustees to handle your estate on their behalf.
When referring to people in your will, be as specific as possible so as to avoid confusion i.e. include their full name, NRIC, and home address.
Executors of your will
These will be the people who will carry out the instructors in your will. An executor has to be over 21 years old, not bankrupt, and be of sound mind.
An executor can either be someone whom you know personally and or can be a professional executor (i.e. a lawyer or a trust company licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore). It would be best to appointment someone who is financially savvy and whom you know is able to cope with the administrative duties after your death.
You can also appoint more than one executor e.g. a backup executor in the event that the first execute passes on or renounces his/her executorship. Of note, an executor can also be one of the beneficiaries under the will.
Ideally, you should inform your executor of your intention to in include them as an executor in your will.
A revocation clause
This will be a statement to revoke any and all of your previous wills. The statement will go something like this: "I hereby revoke all my former wills and testamentary dispositions made by me and declare this to be my last will."
Funeral arrangements: You can also leave instructions on your funeral arrangements and where you want your ashes to be kept.
Appointing of guardian: You may appoint a guardian for your children if they are below 21 years old
Residuary clause: You should also include a residuary clause that distributes any remainder of your estate according to your wishes (should it not be specifically addressed in your list of assets)
Advisors: You can include the advisors of your will (lawyers and accountants) within your will, if applicable
How does will-writing differ if you are a Muslim?
If you are a Muslim, two thirds of your estate must be reserved for your beneficiaries under Faraidh (i.e. blood relatives).
The remaining one third of your estate can be distributed in your will to people who are not related to you by blood (e.g. an adopted child).
The will must be witnessed by two male Muslims who are not the beneficiaries.
Remember to sign your will!
For a will to be legally binding, you will need to ensure the following:
Sign at the foot of your will in the presence of two witnesses
Have the two witnesses sign your will in your presence and in the presence of each other
The two main witnesses
Must be over 21 years old
Be of sound mind
Cannot be beneficiaries of the will or spouses of beneficiaries of the will
If you are unable to sign at the foot of your will, you can allow another person to sign it on your behalf and in your presence.
If the will in signed in another language or using a thumbprint, you must include a clause in the will to state that the contents of the will have been properly explained and interpreted to the testator and that the testator understands the content of the will.
Where should you keep your will?
You can keep your will at home or with your lawyer. Do inform your executors where your will is located and how they can access it.
You can also keep the information of where you will is located in a will registry (there will be $50 charge for submission of will information) or at My Legacy Vault (free of charge) which is a government agency website that is still being developed.
How to deposit a will record (Image taken from Wills Registry's instruction manual)
What else should you take note of?
You should review your will at least once a year and especially when major life circumstances occur such as:
Marriage (a will is nullified when you marry or remarry)
Birth of a child
When a child becomes older than 21 years old (no longer needs guardian)
Death of a beneficiary
Significant changes in your assets/liabilities
If you legally change your name (e.g. salmon)
Remember to include the date that your will is made on the will itself.
When should you seek legal advice?
If you have overseas assets, a very large estate, or if you have complicated instructions on how should inherit your assets, do consider hiring a lawyer to help you write your will.
How does things change if you have a terminal illness?
In normal circumstances i.e. an unexpected death of a person who has left behind a valid will, the surviving next-of-kin would have to apply for a Grant of Probate in order to have access to the assets left behind by the deceased.
The cost of a Grant of Probate can vary depending on the lawyer that you hire. Some probate lawyers charge on an hourly basis and some charge a fixed sum. In general, you can expect the cost to be over $1000.
If you know that you have a terminal illness and you are thinking of reducing the workload on your surviving next-of-kin after your death, you can consider transferring all of your assets to your loved ones prior to your death. This will also help you avoid the cost of obtaining a Grant of Probate. Do note that you have to be very careful with this decision and have absolute trust in your loved ones before doing this.
It may seem tedious making sure all the necessary information is included and is as accurate as possible, but it is an important actions to take to ensure that your assets are distributed as per your wishes in the event of your death. If you would like to free a free template, you can check out OCBC's free online will generator at this link.