The Last Will and Testament

by Confidentem Private Office

Foundation of an Effective Estate and Succession Plan

In the wealth management industry a significant amount of time is spent managing financial assets, yet there is little discussion on estate and succession planning, such as how, when and what manner, assets should be transferred to beneficiaries. High net worth investors face the difficulty of administrating the transfer of wealth in the event of death or mental incapacity, with an increasing demand for transparency in reporting financial assets; a factor that is driven by changing tax and regulatory requirements globally.

The foundation of an estate and succession plan in common-law jurisdictions, such as Singapore, is the Last Will and Testament (also known as a “Will”). A Will is a document that expresses a person’s final wishes after death, and the process begins with an open-dialogue concerning issues and objectives.

This article serves to highlight some of the key issues for consideration when preparing a Will to ensure an appropriate document, effectively co-ordinated with other succession instruments, can achieve one’s succession objectives.

The Will

Properly drafting and executing a Will is an art, not a science, and there are several factors to consider in the process. The following are some key components:


  • The Testator: the person drawing up the Will. The Testator will also need to consider the appointment of one or more Executors, either “laypeople” or professional executors, such as a lawyer or professional trust company.
  • The Executor: the person or entity tasked with executing the Will after the Grant of Probate. It is important to note that the probate process is a public exercise, and access to the Will is public (after probate). When appointing an Executor there are several factors to consider:
    1. the Executor will have considerable administrative burden;
    2. the Executor may not be in Singapore, and may have to operate from a distance;
    3. the Executor may become a Trustee (e.g. if minor children are involved), requiring a level of trustworthiness and savvy, as they will own and control the assets for the Beneficiaries.
  • Guardians: an important appointment when children are beneficiaries, or may become beneficiaries, if both parents pass away


  • Testamentary Trust: this is a trust built into the Will, coming into effect on Grant of Probate. If the Testator has young children, and an incident affects both the Testator and their spouse, the Executor will become Trustee. Under Singapore Law, the Executor will hold the assets as trustee for the children until the children reach the age of majority (21). The Trustee would be able to make distributions for the care, maintenance and education of the child, but only up to 50% of their vested interest. Subsequently, it is advisable to build more comprehensive testamentary provisions into the Will to allow the Executor to distribute more than what is limited by statute.
  • Commorientes Clause: If both the Testator and their spouse die in circumstances where it is not possible to determine the order of death, the deaths are presumed to have occurred in order of seniority, i.e., the oldest is deemed to have passed first. A Commorientes clause allows a window of time where death in quick succession is ignored, e.g., the assets of A will transfer to B, provided they survive A by 30 days. Without a Commorientes clause, the Will of the older person would be dealt with first (which may leave assets to the deceased spouse, creating further delay by a second probate exercise).
  • Moveable Property: the manner in which moveable property can be disposed of is generally determined by the domicile of the Testator. Thus, a Singapore Will could comfortably deal with bank accounts in both Singapore and Hong Kong.
  • Immoveable Property: transferal of ownership is determined by the location of the property, including real estate. For example, if a Singapore resident owns a house in France, they are advised to draw up a succession instruction with a notary in France who is familiar with the local law as it applies to such property.


  • Property in general: careful consideration needs to be given as to where both moveable and immoveable property is located to determine how best to deal with transfer of ownership. A Singapore resident with property (even moveable property) in India or China should consider making local arrangements for these assets, and perhaps draft a Singapore Will that only deals with Singapore assets.
  • Specific and residual gifts: the Will can make specific gifts of specific assets to specified persons, with appropriate conditions built-in, or simply refer to the residual estate as a whole.
  • Beneficiaries: careful consideration is required as to firstly define who they are; what should happen if one or more fail to survive; how to deal with minors; and if the beneficiary should be a trust or other longer term succession arrangement.
  • Assets not transferable by Will: in Singapore, these will include Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions and Life Insurance Policies. In both cases, it is important to make appropriate nominations.

There are many other factors to deliberate, but the above details the main concerns.

Once the Will(s) have been drafted, they will need to be stored in a secure location to avoid problems associated with loss, destruction and/or fraud. This central depository should store all Wills relating to the Testator, including those covering assets in other jurisdictions; and, a Personal Asset Inventory, which should be maintained and updated regularly.

Lasting Power of Attorney

The Last Will and Testament only deals with death. Increasing life expectancy brings problems associated with ageing including dementia, stroke and Alzheimer’s. A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) allows incidents of mental incapacity to be managed by setting out the appointment of caregivers and persons to deal with the financial affairs of the individual. This arrangement can be further enhanced through the LPA empowering specified assets to be gifted into an existing trust once the individual is deemed mentally incapacitated. Through trust settlements, instructed or gifted during mental capability, the settlor can guide the Trustee towards managing their financial needs, should the incident of mental incapacity arise.


In the absence of a valid Will in a common-law country like Singapore, the State determines the disposition of a deceased’s assets based on the country’s intestacy statute. These provisions are unlikely to achieve the succession objectives of most high net worth families.

To avoid intestacy, it is essential that the existence of a Will be made known to the beneficiaries, and an inventory of assets be attached to the Will to achieve complete succession planning.


Given the myriad of issues and complexity surrounding wealth planning, it is essential for high net worth individuals to invest time in establishing arrangements that will achieve successful transfer of wealth to their families. The Last Will and Testament is the foundation of building a succession plan.

Confidentem Private Office
Tel: (65) 6305 0185