Any person over 21 years of age who is not an undischarged bankrupt can be an executor of a Will in Singapore. This includes someone who is a beneficiary in the Will. Ideally an executor should be someone who is good at managing money.
Even though lawyers may be engaged to help with the Probate process an executor of a Will must be able to make financial decisions about the estate’s assets. So it helps if the executor is used to making decisions about the money.
The Executor’s Role
An executor and trustee have several responsibilities. It can take an executor several months to fully discharge his/her responsibilities but sometimes it could take years.
An executor’s responsibilities begin from when a person passes away. If the person who passes away has no immediate family members then his/her executor has to arrange for the funeral service, cremation, etc.
A person appointed executor and trustee will usually engage lawyers. Lawyers are needed to help apply for a Grant of Probate and to advise an executor how to carry out his/her responsibilities.
In order to apply for a Grant, the executor must obtain and provide to the lawyers the original death certificate and the original Will. Also, the executor will have to find and provide to the lawyers a full set of financial assets and liabilities as part of the Probate application process.
The executor’s power to act comes from the Grant. Without the grant, an executor is not able to transfer land or get the release of money from a bank.
After probate is granted an executor of a Will must collect all of the assets of a deceased person in order to pay off all of the estate’s debts starting with the costs of applying for Probate.
The Trustee’s Role
As the executor of a will must settle the debts of the estate before moving to distribute the estate’s assets as trustee.
Executors should always see to it that all debts of the estate is settled in full before moving on to do the distribution of the estate. Otherwise, an executor is only putting himself/herself at risk.
If there is income tax or estate duty payable (including on overseas assets) an executor has to make sure all of these are paid in full. Sometimes an executor may make a distribution to a specific beneficiary even before all debts are paid in full. This may happen for instance if there is a ‘wasting’ asset (eg a car) given to a specific beneficiary.
After all the assets are ‘brought in’ and all of the debts paid the trustee can then distribute the estate assets before finalizing the estate and winding it up.
As part of the process of distributing assets, gifts, and bequests a trustee will want to seek a release from beneficiaries.
Where There Are Infant Beneficiaries
Where an estate has infant beneficiaries an executor can find himself/herself remaining as executor for many years.
A beneficiary has to be an adult to be able to release a trustee from his or her responsibility towards him/her. So infant beneficiaries cannot give a good release to a trustee.
Sometimes a Will may expressly authorise a trustee to pay an infant beneficiary’s share to a parent or guardian of that infant. This may happen if the gift to an infant is of a relatively small sum, say $5,000. If so then an executor has the option of paying out the monetary bequests to the parent or guardian of that infant in order to be able to finalise the estate.
Otherwise, a trustee cannot choose to “transfer” his/her responsibilities to an infant beneficiary by it simply paying out the inheritance in full to a parent or guardian.