We have all heard of stories or binge watched dramas where family members and loved ones turn against each other when money or property inheritance is involved. Turns out, you don’t have to be a crazy rich Asian for there to be family in-fighting.
“Property is a big part of disputes especially when the value of property and investments in property have gone up,” according to Nandakumar Renganathan, equity partner and deputy head of litigation and dispute resolution practice at RHTLaw Asia LLP. “But even in a declining market where disputes are fewer, you will still have issues.”
For this guide, we’ve partnered with legacy planning marketplace, Immortalize, to tap onto the experiences of lawyers and experts to understand common reasons why families fight over property, and what they fight about. Hopefully this will help you prepare in advance, leaving the melodrama to Netflix.
Previous vs New Family
Do you know someone who is divorced? Or have remarried again? There is a big chance that we all do.
In today’s society, divorce and remarriage are increasingly common. People having children with their new spouse or pre-existing children from their new spouse becoming part of the family makes estate distribution more complex, according to Nandakumar Renganathan from RHTLaw Asia LLP.
“The reality is that when people are in love, they make a lot of decisions which are emotional and not in their best interests. When the relationship breaks down, that’s when things go wrong,” Renganathan said. “This applies not just to couples, but also to parents and their children.”
Your will gets revoked and nullified when you remarry, but not when you get divorced. Your ex-spouse could still get your inheritance!
“I always tell my clients to make sure that when they complete the divorce, redo their will,” Sarah-Mae Thomas, managing director at Sarah-Mae Thomas LLC, said. “I’ve seen for blended families where there are stepchildren, they have said things like, ‘Who do I take care of? Do I take care of everyone equally? Could the percentage change after divorce?’. These are some things to consider.”
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Children vs Parents
With an increase in Western influence and Asian parents having children who are well educated and have lived in many different countries, the children’s worldviews are often very different from their parents and many times they don’t agree, according to Edmund Leow, senior partner and head of the tax and trust, estates and wealth preservation practice at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP.
“In some cases, they are already fighting while the parents are still alive,” Leow said. “But even if they don’t fight when the parents are alive, unfortunately, there’s a high risk that [the children] will fight after the parents are gone.”
So, what do families fight about?
Portion of Inheritance Received
The most common thing that people dispute about is the portion that they receive, according to Hazell Ng, equity director and head of private wealth & matrimonial practice at WMH Law Corporation.
While a will allows you to give to anyone you want in any way you want, that will has to be valid. A will can be invalid if, for example, the will isn’t properly signed or the testator (person making the will) lacks mental capacity when executing the will.
“Sometimes we go the extra step to ask for a doctor or specialist’s report to certify the testator’s mental capacity before the testator signs the will, or request for a doctor or specialist to help in witnessing the signing of the will, especially in cases where the testator is suffering from terminal illness or dementia,” Ng said. “There’s no oral will in Singapore. You can’t just lie on the deathbed and say I want to give this to such and such. This won’t count as a will.”
Even if the will is valid, there are other issues that families can fight about when it comes to inheriting a property.
Not all contributions to the purchase and maintenance of the property are properly documented. When this happens, disputes can arise.
“When an estate distribution is going to be made, those who have indirectly contributed would want these indirect contributions to be recognised,” according to Nandakumar Renganathan at RHTLaw Asia LLP. “The beneficiary may say ‘Hey, not the entire property belongs to the deceased. Some part of it actually belongs to me’. What is recorded may not necessarily be what it is.”
Timing of Sale
When a property is inherited by multiple beneficiaries, there may not always be a consensus on what to do with the property.
“If the market is down, people may say don’t sell the property because they can get better value if the property market goes up,” Renganathan said. “On the other hand, you may have some beneficiaries that may want immediate realisation because of their own family circumstances.”
Even without the family drama, there are also issues such as stamp duties that inheritors should know about. Stay tuned for our next article, which will cover this!
More FAQs Related to Property Inheritance
What Happens before you Inherit a Property?
If the property is held in the form of joint tenancy, the surviving tenant/s will take over the deceased share of the property. Otherwise, you will have to get a Grant of Probate or Grant of Letters of Administration from the court before the property can be transferred to the beneficiaries.
Do You Have to Pay Tax If You Inherit A Property?
There’s currently no inheritance tax in Singapore so you do not have to pay tax.
Do You Have to Pay Stamp Duty on Inherited Property?
You do not have to pay stamp duty when you inherit a property. If you subsequently sell the property, whether there’s stamp duty payable will depend on when the deceased purchased the property.
How Do I Find Out About Inherited Property?
To learn more about property inheritance, check out our other articles (‘Estate Planning in Singapore: We Ask Lawyers about Wills, HDB Inheritance and More‘ and ‘What Happens to Your Property after You Die in Singapore?‘) or legacy planning marketplace Immortalize.
Have burning questions around estate planning, inheritance tax, and matters related to property and the law? Simply #AskGuru!
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This guide was written in collaboration with Immortalize, a legacy planning marketplace where you can find out more and compare lawyers and their rates and services.