International assets and your will in Singapore

If you are based in Singapore, but have accounts or properties in other countries, the complexity of your estate will determine whether you need to create one overall will, or various wills for each country where your assets are located.

For more information on the fundamentals of writing a legally valid will, have a look at the Ultimate Guide to Writing a Will in Singapore.

Before you begin

First assess the complexity of your estate.

Here are some things to check:

  • Do you have assets in more than 2 countries total?

  • Singapore is governed by Common Law. Are the other countries where you have assets governed by a different type of legal system?

  • Do you have immovable properties (i.e. real estate) in other countries?

If you answered yes to two or more questions above, you likely have a more complex estate.

How should I handle assets in multiple countries in my will?

There are two courses of action when it comes to managing your international assets:

  1. Have a single will in Singapore that addresses all your assets
  2. Create a will in each country you have assets in

Benefits of a single will

The benefit of having a single will is that it consolidates managing your assets–there will be only one executor and one set of instructions. Your instructions will be clear to the executor you appoint and to the courts. It also avoids any confusion over which will represents your last wishes.

On the down side, having a single will can extend the length of the probate process. This is because your estate will be settled one after the other in each country where you have property.

This option is best if the majority of your assets are in Singapore, and you have only a few accessible assets overseas (such as a bank account).

Benefits of several wills

Assets in different countries are subject to the laws of those countries. It is no different when it comes to wills. For wills made abroad, local courts will look at whether the will meets the legal requirements in their own country.

The other main benefit of having a will for each country is expediency. When the time comes, your executors in each country will be able to immediately pursue the court process to have each will recognised in their respective jurisdiction. They need not wait for the process to complete elsewhere. This reduces costs related to time, travel and legal administration.

Therefore, if you have a complex estate, it is best to create a will in each country and appoint a local executor to carry out your wishes.

Handling multiple wills

It is standard practice for wills to have a revocation clause to nullify previous wills. The purpose of the revocation clause is to prevent any of your earlier wills from having any legal effect after your new will is executed. It looks something like this: “I revoke all previous wills and codicils”.

However, when you have wills in different jurisdictions, it’s important that you revocation clause only applies to the properties that deal with that country

For example, let’s say you have an existing will dealing with assets in the UK. When you are writing a will for your assets in Singapore, you will need to ensure that this new Singapore will explicitly states that it is revokes all previous wills that pertain to assets in Singapore and does not affect wills and assets in other countries. This way your will in the UK continues to stay in effect for assets located outside of Singapore.

Putting this into practice

If you have properties in multiple countries, it’s important that you have one or more than one will, as explained above.

So, what should you do next?

If you have simple estate, you can use Goodwill to write a single will for all your assets globally. If you decide to create one will, choose a country where you have assets that you know to operate fairly and efficiently to write your will. If that is Singapore, you can start your will here( and preview what it would look like before you download.

If you have a more complex estate with some assets in Singapore, here are your options:

  • If you have an existing will in another country, you can use Goodwill to write a will for Singapore. It has been designed to ensure that your will in other countries will continue stay in effect for assets in those countries.
  • Write your first will in Singapore.

What can I do beyond making a will to make it easier to manage international assets?

There are few other things you can do to simplify the process of passing on your assets to your loved ones, other than writing a will.

Merge your assets. You can consolidate your assets to simplify the process of distributing them. For example, you can create a single one investment portfolio for your liquid assets, or sell all properties and put the proceeds into one bank account.

Joint accounts. Right of survivorship means that if one account or property owner passes away, the other joint owner continues to have immediate and full access to that asset, without the need to go through the probate process. You can convert your accounts in join accounts and create joint ownership of properties with your partner or children where permitted by law.

Creating a trust. You can also consider setting up a trust, where your properties are transferred to a trustee to hold for any person or entity you wish to inherit your assets. Properties placed in trust need not go through the probate process, and are directly passed to the beneficiaries.

While these steps are useful, making a will remains essential to carrying out your wishes. Without a will, the laws of the land where your assets are located will determine how they are distributed, which can result in unwanted outcomes. Many millions are lost each year in unclaimed assets or properties claimed by the state. To safeguard against this, consider making a will.

This article was last edited on Apr 24, 2020

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