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You Are Chosen As A Will's Executor. Now What? - Step-by-Step Guide On What To Do

When you are appointed an executor, it means someone trusts and thinks you are responsible enough to do a very important task. But what exactly does it mean to be an executor? What do you have to do? In this practical guide, we will run through the key things you need to know as an executor.

What is an executor?

An executor is a person or entity appointed in a will to carry out the instructions written in the will to manage the affairs and wishes of the deceased person. Many people appoint their kin or friends as executors, but one can also appoint a professional executor to do the work.

Usually, there will be one or two executors (normally up to four) with the addition of substitute executors in case the main executors can’t fulfill their duties.

Usually, the substitute executor steps in when:

  • The executor doesn’t want to be an executor

  • The executor has passed away

  • The executor cannot qualify as an executor. For example, the executor doesn’t have mental capacity.

  • The executor is a bankrupt, unless with permission from the High Court.

What happens if there are more than one executor?

If there are more than one executors in the will, you need to determine if you have to decide jointly with the other executors (ie, all of you have to agree before things can proceed) or anyone of you can sign off on things. The arrangement will usually be stated in the will.

If you are the sole executor, you will also need to make sure that you keep proper records as you have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries and the beneficiaries can potentially sue you if you don’t do your job right.

What are the duties of an executor?

In simple words, your job as an executor is to get the deceased person’s post-death affairs sorted. Here’s a detailed breakdown of your duties.

When a person passes, the executor is responsible for:

1. Finding the last original will

2. Making funeral arrangements (as instructed in the will if any)

3. Gathering the documents and information required to get a Grant of Probate (“Grant”)
  • Grant of Probate is a legal document issued by the court for executors named in a will to have the legal power to manage and distribute the deceased’s estate.

Most institutions will not release funds or allow you to make decisions without the Grant.

  • If the value of the estate is below SG$50,000, you can consider applying to the Public Trustee to administer the estate.

You can apply for the Public Trustee to administer the estate here. If the Public Trustee agrees to administer the estate, a Grant is not needed. Note that there are circumstances where the Public Trustee cannot help administer the estate. Check here for more information on these circumstances.

  • A lot of the information gathering revolves around compiling the Schedule of Assets, which lists down information including the deceased’s debts, liabilities and assets.

  • Some assets such as Central Provident Fund ("CPF") monies, insurance with nominations, jointly owned properties (eg. joint-tenancy flats, joint bank accounts, etc.) are not covered under the will and thus, does not need a Grant to be distributed.


For more information on which CPF monies are covered or not covered under the will, check out CPF Inheritance: How It Works, Tips & More!

For more information about the procedures and documents required to get a Grant of Probate, check out All About Probate & Administration (Singapore Edition)

4. After getting the Grant, you will need to gather the assets, pay off debts, liabilities, and other expenses, and then distribute the remaining according to the deceased’s will.
  • All taxes, debts, bills and other expenses such as funeral costs have to be paid first before you can distribute the assets.

Funeral, testamentary and administration expenses have priority over other debts and liabilities.

  • Make sure you keep a record of accounts so that when beneficiaries ask for the detailed accounting (which they are allowed to), there won’t be unnecessary disputes.

Measures can include opening a separate bank account under the deceased's name to keep it separate from your personal accounts and keeping all receipts of expenses.

Do I need a lawyer to get a Grant of Probate?

While you can technically get a Grant of Probate yourself, it makes sense to engage the help of a lawyer who specializes in probate matters to guide you through the process, avoid disputes and potentially reduce extra costs arising from mistakes.

Cost to engage a lawyer to get the Grant starts from ~SG$1,500, but will vary depending on factors such as the size of the estate and how complicated the estate and probate/administration process is.

You can find a list of lawyers that do probate, compare their offerings, and book an appointment immediately with them here.

Do executors of a will get paid?

Executors are commonly beneficiaries of the estate and that’s usually the incentive to get the job done. But at the court’s discretion, the executors may be allowed for up to 5% on the value of the assets collected.

Can I refuse to be an executor?

Yes. If you don’t want to be an executor, the substitute executor will be next in line to become the executor. If both the executor and substitute executor don’t want to or can’t do the job, someone else can apply and/or the court will appoint someone.

Can an executor pay and outsource the work to someone else?

Yes. If you are the executor, you can appoint third parties to assist you with the whole process. For example, you can hire executor assistance to help you manage the whole process, from getting the Grant to collecting and distributing the net assets to beneficiaries.

Note that hiring executor assistance is different from having a professional executor named or appointed as an executor of a will.

Difference between a professional executor and executor assistant

When a professional executor is named or appointed as the executor in the will, the legal responsibility and fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries is borne by the professional executor.

In the case where you are named the executor and you hire executor assistance, the executor assistant may be the one doing most of the work, but the legal responsibility is still on you (ie, the beneficiaries can still sue you). So do keep clear records and check on the work done by your third parties.

Some firms that offer professional executor service also offer executor assistance service.

You can find a list of firms that offer professional executor service that you can book immediately here.

For a more personalized recommendation (it’s free!), reach out to us here.

How long do I have to decide if I want to be an executor?

Application for Grant of Probate must be filed within 6 months from the deceased’s death. After 6 months, executors have to explain the reason for delay. If you do decide that you don’t want to be an executor, make sure you decide fast to be considerate to the person who is going to be the executor.

What to do if I don’t want to be the executor of a will?

If the person who appointed you (ie, testator) is still alive, tell the testator so that the testator can make necessary adjustments.

If the person is deceased, you will need to sign a renunciation document before a lawyer or Commissioner for Oaths to confirm that you are giving up your right to apply for probate.

You can find the document here.

What should an executor do if the deceased have overseas assets?

Assets in different countries are governed by local laws. There are generally three ways for executors to deal with them.

  1. You can apply for a separate Grant of Probate or equivalent in the foreign country;

  2. You can take the Grant of Probate that you have obtained in Singapore and reseal it in the foreign country. Resealing is the process of getting that foreign country to recognize the Grant that you have obtained in Singapore;

  3. You can apply for a foreign Grant and have it resealed in Singapore.

Note: Not all Grants can be resealed as different jurisdictions have different processes and requirements. Resealing is more likely to work if the countries involved are Commonwealth countries.

A probate lawyer should be able to advise you on the best course of action. You can find a list of lawyers that does probate, compare their offerings, and book an appointment immediately with them here.

If you need recommendation on which lawyer is most suitable for your situation, reach out to us here (it's free!). Got more questions on being an executor, feel free to WhatAapp us here or email us at!


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Disclaimer: Nothing in this article or site should be construed as providing legal advice, financial advice or advice of any sort. The information provided are general in nature and may become inaccurate over time. Please consult a professional for advice.

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