Testamentary Trust in Singapore: Requirements & Probate Process

by 24 June 2024Knowledge & Insights

Estate planning in Singapore, a key aspect of wealth management, often involves setting up legal arrangements like testamentary trusts and living trusts (inter vivos trusts).

These trusts are vital for financial planning, especially when considering tax efficiency and protecting assets.

This blog offers a comprehensive look at the process of setting up testamentary trusts in Singapore, including their pros and cons, the probate process or the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, and how they compare to living trusts.

What Is A Testamentary Trust?

A testamentary trust is a legal arrangement that comes into effect upon an individual’s death, as specified in their last will. It’s a way to manage assets and protect assets for beneficiaries, often providing tax benefits.

Under the Civil Law Act and Trustees Act 1967, these trusts are created to ensure that the deceased’s assets are handled as per their wishes. A testamentary trust remains dormant until the grantor’s death.

Most individuals tailor the distribution of assets to align with their unique estate planning goals and the needs of their beneficiaries. Common strategies include staggered distributions, which allow beneficiaries to receive their inheritance at different life stages or ages, fostering financial responsibility.

Specific bequests are also frequent, where certain assets are designated for particular beneficiaries. Conditional distributions set prerequisites for beneficiaries to meet before accessing their inheritance, often tied to personal achievements or behaviours.


Probate Process For Testamentary Trusts

The probate process, overseen by a probate Court, is a legal process to validate a will and administer the deceased’s assets. It involves Court fees and can affect the timeline for distributing assets.

Testamentary trusts, unlike living trusts, require this probate process, which can be lengthy and complex, particularly when dealing with substantial estate taxes or assets held in foreign trusts.

Here’s the overview of the probate process for testamentary trust in Singapore.

  • Validation of the Will: The will is validated by the probate Court to ensure it is legally binding and reflects the deceased’s wishes.
  • Appointment of Executors: The will typically names an executor who will administer the estate. The probate Court formally appoints this executor.
  • Assessment of Estate Value: The executor assesses the estate’s value, including all assets and liabilities. This assessment is crucial for understanding the scope of the estate and for tax purposes.
  • Settling Debts and Taxes: Before assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries, the executor must settle the testator’s debts and taxes owed by the estate, if there are any. This might include estate taxes, income taxes, and debts to creditors.
  • Distribution of Assets: The executor distributes the remaining assets. If a testamentary trust is specified in the will, the assets designated for the trust are transferred to it.


Testamentary Trust Vs. Living Trust

In contrast to a testamentary trust, inter vivos trust or living trust is set up during an individual’s lifetime. These can be revocable trusts, which can be altered or revoked, or irrevocable trusts, which, once established, cannot be changed.

Living trusts offer several advantages, including avoiding the probate process, providing immediate access to assets for medical expenses or other needs, and keeping the trust’s assets out of public record.

However, testamentary trusts, activated through the legal process of probate in probate Court, are beneficial for distributing assets per the settlor’s or testator’s wishes after their death.


Pros And Cons Of Creating A Testamentary Trust

Creating a trust can be a strategic part of your estate planning. But while testamentary trusts in Singapore offer several advantages, they may also have potential drawbacks.

Pros Of Testamentary Trusts

  • Control Over Funding: Testamentary trusts provide significant control over how beneficiaries use their inheritance. This is particularly useful if you’re concerned about a beneficiary’s spending habits or need to provide for a disabled child.
  • Tax Advantages: These trusts can sometimes offer estate tax avoidance and may provide tax benefits for the beneficiaries, depending on individual circumstances and local laws.
  • Simplicity and Flexibility: Setting up a testamentary trust is straightforward, often forming part of your will. This simplicity extends to its adaptability, allowing the trust to be tailored to the specific needs of your beneficiaries, especially those with special needs.
  • Asset Protection: By placing assets within a trust, you are legally separating their ownership from the beneficiaries. Your assets are shielded from many of the financial risks that individuals might face, such as bankruptcy or divorce settlements.

Cons Of Testamentary Trusts

  • Maintenance Costs: While the initial setup costs might be low, the ongoing maintenance of the trust can incur costs. This includes legal fees for the trustee’s duties, like asset reporting and Court appearances.
  • Issues with Trustees: The designated trustee can decline the role. If this happens, a probate Court may appoint a new trustee, who could be a stranger. Discussing trustee responsibilities with potential candidates is crucial to avoid such issues.
  • Probate Process: Testamentary trusts do not avoid probate. Probate can be lengthy and public, meaning the details of the trust and beneficiaries become part of the public record. This lack of privacy contrasts with living trusts, which operate separately from a will and offer more confidentiality.
  • Potential for Disputes: If your will is contested or there’s confusion about its terms, the trust may not be executed as you intended. Ensuring clear, legally sound documentation is essential to mitigate this risk.

Consulting with estate planning professionals can help you navigate testamentary trusts’ potential challenges and complexities and determine if they align with your estate planning goals.

How To Set Up A Testamentary Trust In Singapore

A testator should follow several important steps to create a testamentary trust in Singapore. These steps are not just about legal formalities; they are crucial in ensuring your estate is managed and distributed according to your specific wishes, providing for your beneficiaries, and complying with legal requirements.

Here’s an overview of the process:

1. Understand Estate Planning Goals

Assess estate taxes and income tax implications, especially in the context of double tax treaties. This step is crucial for tax efficiency and asset protection. Consider the impact of estate duty and capital gains taxes on your assets and how they can be minimised to preserve wealth for your beneficiaries.

2. Select Trustees

Trustees are responsible for distributing and managing the testator’s assets by the trust’s terms. In Singapore, the trustee must be a resident individual or a Singapore-incorporated company. If the trustee is a trust company offering trust services, they must be licensed and regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

They must adhere to the fiduciary duties outlined in the Trustees Act, demonstrating integrity, impartiality, and the necessary skill set to manage the trust assets effectively.

3. Draft The Will And Trust Document

This legal document forms the backbone of your testamentary trust, providing clear instructions on how your estate should be handled.

The document should detail trust assets, beneficiaries, and distribution rules. It must comply with Singapore’s Wills Act and Civil Law Act to ensure its legality and enforceability.

4. Specify Beneficiaries And Distribution Terms

Specifying beneficiaries and distribution terms prevents future disputes and confusion. They can include family members, friends, charitable organisations, or any other entity the testator wishes to benefit from their estate after their death.

As the testator, you can specify exactly who should benefit from the trust and in what manner. You must define the terms of asset distribution, including any conditions or milestones for beneficiaries.

This may involve setting up trusts for minors, stipulating ages or conditions under which beneficiaries receive assets, or providing for specific needs like education or medical care.

5. Legal Compliance And Review

Ensuring legal compliance is fundamental to the trust’s validity and effectiveness. Review the trust documents with legal professionals to confirm local laws and regulations compliance.

This step ensures the trust meets all legal requirements and accurately reflects your wishes.

6. Sign And Store The Documents

Properly executing and safely storing the trust documents secures the trust’s legitimacy. Ensure that there are witnesses when signing the documents. The law requires witnesses to be individuals with no interest in the will.

Store the documents in a secure location and inform your trustees and executors of their location for easy access when needed.

7. Review And Update

Regular reviews and updates ensure that the trust remains relevant and effective. As the testator, you can change the estate plan to suit your financial situation, family dynamics, or estate laws. This could include changes in asset composition, beneficiary circumstances, or tax laws.


Conclusion About Testamentary Trusts In Singapore

Testamentary trusts in Singapore offer a structured way to manage and distribute an individual’s assets posthumously. They are an essential part of an estate plan, especially when considering the complexities of tax liability, asset protection, and the legal process involved.

With proper planning and legal advice, testamentary trusts can be a powerful tool for estate planning, ensuring your wealth is managed and distributed according to your wishes.

Should you consider establishing a testamentary trust, seek advice from a legal professional. Tembusu Law is a reputable law firm based in Singapore that offers expertise in such matters. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation!


Frequently Asked Questions About Testamentary Trusts in Singapore

Is Testamentary Trust Same With Last Will And Testament In Singapore?

No, a testamentary trust and a last will and testament are not the same in Singapore, though they are closely related. A last will and testament is a legal document that outlines how a person’s assets should be distributed upon their death. It can include instructions for the creation of a testamentary trust.

Can I Change Or Revoke A Testamentary Trust?

A testamentary trust, being part of a will, can be changed or revoked by the testator at any time before their death, as long as they are legally capable of making such decisions. This flexibility allows for adjustments based on changing circumstances or wishes.

Is It Possible To Include Non-Financial Assets In A Testamentary Trust?

Absolutely. A testamentary trust can hold various assets, including real estate, personal property, stocks, and intellectual property rights. The key is ensuring that the will and trust documents specify how these non-financial assets should be managed and distributed.

How Specific Can The Distribution Terms Be In A Testamentary Trust?

The distribution terms within a testamentary trust can be highly specific, detailing who receives what, when, and under what conditions beneficiaries may access their inheritance. This can include stipulations for age, education milestones, or other life events.

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