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Administration of Claims against Bona Vacantia Estates

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1. What is bona vacantia?

Bona vacantia literally translates as "ownerless goods". It refers to the assets in the estates of people who have died without leaving a will and without any surviving entitled next-of-kin[1]. Anyone can make an equitable or moral claim on the bona vacantia estate of the deceased as long as he is able to produce the necessary documents and evidence required to support his claim.


[1] The entitled next-of-kin are the deceased's spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts. 

2. What is an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate?

In assessing whether there is an “equitable or moral claim” within the meaning of section 27 (3) of the Civil Law Act, the Public Trustee will consider the following factors:

 

(a)  The length and nature of the relationship between the deceased and the claimant;

 

(b) Any legal or moral obligations which the deceased had towards the claimant;

 

(c)  The way in which the claimant behaved towards the deceased including the contribution (if any) made by the claimant to the welfare of the deceased;

 

(d) The deceased’s last wishes


The above are meant as general guidelines only. All claims are assessed on a case-by-case basis and on their respective individual merits as supported by evidence. A claimant may not necessarily succeed in his claim even if one or more of the above factors are present.

3. Who can make an equitable or moral claim on the bona vacantia estate of the deceased?

Anyone (including charities and other bodies) can make an equitable or moral claim on the estate of the deceased as long as he is able to produce the necessary documents and evidence required to support his claim. However, before a claim can be considered by the Public Trustee, the claimant must prove that the deceased has no surviving next-of-kin who is eligible to inherit the deceased’s property and/or monies under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 146). 

4. Can I make an equitable or moral claim on the bona vacantia estate if the deceased has entitled next-of-kin but they do not wish to deal with nor claim the estate?

No, you will not be able to make an equitable or moral claim against the estate because the deceased is survived by next-of-kin entitled to a share in the estate and the estate will not be considered bona vacantia.

5. I am not related to the deceased but I did help the deceased in later years by running errands and generally looking after the deceased. Can I be reimbursed for this?

The Public Trustee will assess each claim on a case-by-case basis.  You may wish to submit your application for the Public Trustee’s assessment after meeting the eligibility conditions and adhering to the prescribed waiting period (see section on Time). 

6. Can I make an equitable or moral claim on a Muslim estate with no entitled next-of-kin?

No, section 27(6) of the Civil Law Act (Cap. 43) specifically excludes Muslim estates.

 

For Muslim estates without entitled next-of-kin, the monies will be paid to Baitulmal which is in accordance with Muslim inheritance laws.

7. What are the assets of the deceased against which I can make an equitable or moral claim?

You can make an equitable or moral claim against all the assets of the deceased (including un-nominated CPF monies) as long as you can show proof that the deceased has no surviving next-of-kin who is eligible to inherit these assets under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 146). Whether the claim will succeed against all or only part of the assets will depend on the facts and circumstances.

8. I do not know if the deceased has any assets. Can the Public Trustee assist me in my search?

The Public Trustee will not be able to assist a claimant in his search for assets of the deceased.  A claimant will need to provide the Public Trustee with the details of the assets owned by the deceased (including the estimated value(s)).

9. What happens if the actual size of the bona vacantia estate turns out to be larger than what I have declared?

If the value of the deceased’s estate eventually amount to more than what you have declared and exceeds $50,000, we may require additional documents and checks as stated in Q14 and Q15. To avoid unnecessary delays in the administration of your claim, please try to provide an accurate estimate of the value of the deceased’s estate.

10. Is there a time limit for making an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate?

No, there is no time limit for making a claim. 

11. When can I make an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate?

You can make a claim only after the expiry of the waiting period stated in the table below.


Type of Estate

Waiting Period

Estate not involving immovable property e.g. bank monies, CPF monies


Not less than 6 months from the date of death


Estate involving immovable property e.g. HDB flat, landed property, condominiums


Not less than 3 years from the date of death


12. Why is there a waiting period?

The waiting period is a safeguard to ensure that the entitled next-of-kin has sufficient time to claim from the Public Trustee.

13. How do I make an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate that is ≤ $50,000?

Upon meeting the eligibility conditions set out in Q3 and adhering to the prescribed waiting period of at least 6 months, please submit the following documents to the Public Trustee:

 

a)    Death Certificate of the Deceased

·       If the cause of death was unnatural, provide a copy of the coroner’s inquiry and findings (if any)

 

b)    A Statutory Declaration* from you stating the following:

·       Your relationship with the deceased

·       Whether you are aware of any entitled relatives and whether the deceased had died intestate

·       Whether you are aware of any prior petition of administration being filed

·       The basis of your equitable or moral claim on the estate (with the supporting grounds – see Q2 for examples)

·       Your estimate of the value of the estate, with a breakdown of the assets by their type and estimated value

·       Whether there are any other potential claimants (e.g. other adopted children) and whether the potential claimants have disclaimed their share and interest in the estate

·       Any other information which will support your claim

 

c)     Statutory Declarations* from other interested persons (e.g. other adopted children) stating the following:

·       Their relationship with the deceased

·       Whether they are renouncing their claims to the estate

 

d)    Documents supporting your equitable or moral claim (e.g. receipts showing proof that you have incurred expenses for the benefit of the deceased)

 

e)    Full details of the deceased’s estate (i.e. assets and valuation with documentary evidence)

 

[*Due to a conflict of interests, we are unable to assist you or the other interested persons in drafting the Statutory Declarations. You may either (i) draft the Statutory Declaration on your own and our Commissioners for Oaths can assist in the swearing/affirmation of the Statutory Declarations (click here for the form); or (ii) obtain the Statutory Declaration at a law firm.]

14. How do I make an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate that is > $50,000 without immovable property?

You will have to engage a lawyer to assist in your claim. You will have to adhere to the prescribed waiting period of at least 6 months and provide the same set of documents as required for claims on estates that are ≤ $50,000. In addition, your lawyer will have to take out the advertisements in a major English-language newspaper and a major vernacular newspaper for the next-of-kin of the deceased (click here for sample advertisement) and to conduct probate searches. Your lawyer will have to provide a copy of the newspaper advertisement and the probate search results to the Public Trustee.

15. How do I make an equitable or moral claim on a bona vacantia estate with immovable property?

You will have to engage a lawyer to assist in your claim. You will have to adhere to the prescribed waiting period of at least 3 years and provide the same set of documents as required for claims on estates that are ≤ $50,000. In addition, your lawyer will have to take out the advertisements in a major English-language newspaper and a major vernacular newspaper for the next-of-kin of the deceased (click here for sample advertisement) and to conduct probate searches. Your lawyer will have to provide a copy of the newspaper advertisement and the probate search results to the Public Trustee.


In addition, please let us have the following document/information:

·       The details of the property, in particular, who is occupying the flat and the person paying the conservancy or other relevant charges

·       Results of search for caveats on the property with SLA

·       A Certificate / letter from the Commissioner of Estate Duties on any estate duty payable for the deceased  (Applicable for deaths before 15 Feb 2008)

16. When can the Public Trustee administer the estate?

For an estate that is ≤ $50,000, the Public Trustee will be able to administer the estate as long as it meets the set of criteria stated below.


1.      No pending applications for Letter of Administration or Grant of Probate

2.     Estate does not exceed $50,000 in value

3.     Estate does not have any outstanding debts or liabilities

4.     Deceased does not own a commercial vehicle or a vehicle with an outstanding loan

5.     Deceased does not hold a Trust bank account with a minor

6.     Deceased does not own an insurance policy that falls under S73 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act (Cap 61)

7.     Deceased does not have shares or other interests in unlisted companies (Foreign or Local)

8.     There are no conflicting claims to the estate or disputes among beneficiaries

9.     Deceased is not a partner, sole proprietor or had interests in firms or other business

10.  Deceased is not the sole lessee (owner) of a HDB flat and there are no minor interests

11.   There are no pending law suits which involve the deceased


17. What is the process like after Minister of Law has approved my equitable or moral claim?

For cases where the Public Trustee acts as the administrator of the estate, we will put up a warrant for Minister of Law to sign once the estate administration is completed. The ministerial warrant will transfer the estate or that part of the estate which is allowed to the claimant.

 

For an estate that is > $50,000 and/or involve immovable property or does not meet our above criteria, you will have to engage a lawyer to apply for Letters of Administration so that you can administer the estate on your own. We will provide you with a renunciation letter renouncing the Government’s right to apply for Letters of Administration. Once the estate administration is completed, you will inform the Public Trustee and we will put up a warrant for Minister to sign to transfer the estate monies to the claimant.

18. Are there any fees for making a claim against Bona Vacantia estates?

There is an application fee of $50.00 (inclusive of GST) on each claim filed against a bona vacantia estate.

 

If the Public Trustee is also the administrator of the estate, we will charge an administration fee for estate administration.

 

Fees Charged for Administration of Bona Vacantia Cases (Estate)

Tier

Rates

For the first $5,000

6.50%

For the next $2,000

6.00%

For the next $3,000

4.25%

For the next $10,000

2.75%

For the next $30,000

2.25%

For the next $200,000

1.70%

For the next $250,000

1.40%

For the next $250,000

1.15%

For gross capital value in excess of $750,000

0.85%

 

Fees Charged for Administration of Bona Vacantia Cases (CPF)

Scale

Rate

For the first $1,000

2.400%

For the next $9,000

1.500%

For the next $240,000

0.750%

For the next $250,000

0.450%

For amounts in excess of $500,000

0.300%

Last updated on 07 May 2018