6 Common Inheritance Disputes in Singapore – Pitfalls to Avoid


Imagine this scene. A family is grieving over the recent death of the patriarch of the family. They gather around in the living room to share fond memories of the late patriarch. Their anecdotes eventually descend into discussions of the grant of probate and the distribution of the deceased’s estate. The lawyer arrives and reads out the will of the deceased. A shocked silence descends upon the family members. After a few seconds, accusations are thrown around, angry tears are shed, and chaos ensues. 


While this scene is an obvious dramatization that countless movies portray, it is not uncommon for such inheritance disputes to arise in real life. These disputes can damage relationships between family members and make it more difficult for them to cope with their loved one’s passing.


We thought it would be helpful to share our experiences and knowledge of common inheritance disputes in Singapore. For ease of reference, the deceased is referred to as the testator in the examples below.  


Key terms
Testator: A person who has prepared a will indicating how his/her estate should be managed and distributed after his/her death.
Beneficiary: A person who is named in the will to inherit something from the distribution of the estate of the testator.
Execution of a will: The process of signing and making a will legally binding.


1. Disputes between siblings


Inheritance disputes between siblings usually arise where the relationship between them was already strained prior to the loved one’s death.


One or more siblings may think that they have not sufficiently benefitted under the loved one’s will, and they may blame other siblings for manipulating the testator. Siblings may rope in other siblings and relatives to gather support in the midst of the dispute. This causes unhappiness and grievances within the family and has the ability to tear families apart, whether the matter is eventually litigated or not.


Disputes between siblings are most likely to arise in the following situations:

·       Where siblings receive starkly different proportions of the testator’s entire property; or

·       Where one or more siblings are completely cut out of the testator’s will. 

Sibling disputes may be aggravated by the following circumstances:

·       Where the testator suddenly changed his/her will close to his/her death, and the terms of the new will were substantially different from the previous will.

·       Where a sibling who substantially benefits from the will was considerably involved in its preparation.

·       Where the testator’s favourite child was cut out of the will for no apparent reason.

·       Where the testator’s will does not reflect his/her wishes as he/she had informally shared with his/her children.


2. Disputes where a non-family member is a substantial beneficiary  


Where a non-family member shares an unexpectedly close relationship with the testator and becomes a major beneficiary under the will, other family members may feel robbed of their rightful share of the testator’s estate. The intentions of the non-family member will be called into question, especially where the non-family member is considerably younger than the testator was, or where the friendship or relationship developed recently. In such cases, the issue of undue influence may be raised.


In TCZ v TDA, TDB and TDC [2015] SGFC 63, a young man befriended an elderly lady. Over a few years, he built a relationship of trust with her and led her to believe that he cared for her, while gradually distancing her from other people, such as her niece. The evidence showed that this was done with the sole intention of gaining her money and assets.


The elderly lady’s niece challenged the validity of the will by claiming that she was unduly influenced by the young man, and the Family Court agreed. The circumstances of the relationship between the young man and elderly lady did not indicate a genuine friendship. 


3. Disputes where the testator had multiple romantic partners 


Where the testator was married and had children with different women, it is not uncommon for the disputes to arise where a mistress or illegitimate child is given a share of the testator’s assets and it is the first time the family is made aware of the existence of the mistress or illegitimate child. 


Where a family member wishes to challenge the validity of the testator’s will, he/she can challenge it on the following grounds: 


4. The testator did not have mental capacity at the time of the making and execution of the will. 


Individuals may lose mental capacity due to aging, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, stroke, brain injuries, mental health disorders or intellectual disabilities. This affects their ability to process information and make decisions. 


It is crucial that the testator understands the nature of the will and its consequences, i.e. which assets will be given to which beneficiaries. In situations where there are doubts as to the mental capacity of the testator at the time that he/she made and executed the will, a family member may question whether the will indeed reflects the testator’s real wishes.


If it is found that the testator did not have mental capacity at the time that he/she made or signed the will, the will is considered invalid. It is important to note that:

·       To pursue such a claim, medical evidence, such as evidence of the testator’s state of mind at or around the time when the will was executed, is generally sufficient.

·       Physical illness does not mean that a person is mentally incapacitated. A person may be physically unwell but still be capable of executing a will.

5. The testator did not have knowledge and did not approve of the contents of the will.

It may be the case that the testator does not know the contents of the will that he/she has signed. This could happen where the will is drafted in a language that the testator does not understand, and the will has not been read out and explained in a language that he/she understands.


Some wills contain complex terms and legal jargon on the division of the testator’s assets. In such cases, if the terms of the will are not sufficiently explained to the testator, the testator may not have knowledge and consequently did not approve of the contents of the will.


6. The testator was unduly influenced at the time of the making and execution of the will.


Even where a person has mental capacity, he/she may be unduly influenced by a particular family member or non-family member into making and signing a will that does not correspond with his/her real intentions or is not in his/her best interests.


In situations where one of the testator’s children was particularly close to the testator, especially during the time that the testator made and executed the will, other family members may raise undue influence claims. In such cases, the court will need to, inter alia, scrutinize the circumstances leading to the execution of the will, determine the rationality of the terms of the will and ascertain whether that particular child benefitted more under the will simply because he/she was the testator’s favourite, or because he/she unduly influenced the testator.



Inheritance disputes damage familial relationships and taint the memories that family members may have of the testator. Such legal disputes can be unpleasant and prevent families from finding closure after the passing of the testator. 


It is also unlikely that the testator would have wished to leave his/her loved ones in a state of confusion and animosity.  As a testator, you can take steps to protect your loved ones from getting entangled in such disputes by being aware of such pitfalls.  


Need Assistance? 

If you are a beneficiary or an executor, and you need advice regarding a dispute, our contentious probate solicitors can offer you the legal assistance you need.   


At Jacque Law LLC, we have experience and knowledge in disputes between beneficiaries as well as disputes between executors and beneficiaries.  We have represented clients involved in inheritance related disputes, and will approach every case with empathy and professionalism and assist you with resolving your matter as best as we can. 


For more information or to discuss the details of your case with us, please contact here or drop us an email!


Jacqueline Chua, Managing Director

+65 6970 0518


Other Frequently Asked Questions About Inheritance Law

1. What is the role of the surviving spouse in the event of a dispute over the deceased's estate?

The surviving spouse has a significant role in inheritance matters, especially if named as the appointed executor or beneficiary in the will. Under Singapore's inheritance laws, the court may order payment out of the estate for the provision of maintenance to the surviving spouse even if he or she has been disinherited/excluded from the Will. In the absence of a will, the Intestate Succession Act or the Muslim Law Act, if applicable, dictates the distribution. Under the Intestate Succession Act, the surviving spouse is entitled to a portion of the deceased's estate, which varies depending on whether there are surviving children or parents.


2. How do inheritance laws in Singapore address the distribution of assets to legal heirs?

Inheritance laws in Singapore, including the Intestate Succession Act and the Muslim Law Act for Muslims, outline clear rules for distributing a deceased's assets among legal heirs. This includes the entire estate, such as bank accounts, private properties, and insurance policies without nominated beneficiaries. The distribution pattern varies based on the presence of surviving spouses, children, parents, and other relatives.


3. How are bank accounts and private properties handled in inheritance disputes?

For bank accounts and private properties held in joint tenancy, the principle of survivorship would usually apply, such that the surviving joint tenant(s) would automatically inherit the asset regardless of what is stated in will. However, there are certain exceptions to the principle of survivorship. In particular, survivorship would not apply where it can be shown that the deceased did not intend for the survivor to inherit his/her share of the joint asset upon his/her death. An example where such an exception may arise is when the deceased opened a joint bank account with a third party purely for administrative reasons without any intentions for the said third party to inherit the bank account moneys, and had also solely contributed to the moneys in the account during his/her lifetime.

If the deceased was the sole owner or held the assets as tenants-in-common instead, these assets become part of the entire estate and are distributed according to the will or intestacy rules. 

4. How do joint tenancy and the rights of flat owners affect inheritance?

In Singapore, properties owned in joint tenancy follow the right of survivorship, thereby bypassing the deceased's will. Joint tenancy is common among married HDB flat owners and private property owners. Conversely, properties held in tenancy-in-common form part of the estate and are distributed according to the will or intestacy rules. It's crucial for property owners to understand these distinctions for estate planning purposes.


5. What happens if there is no appointed executor in the will?

If the will does not name an executor or if the appointed executor is unable or unwilling to act, family member(s) of the deceased may make an application for a Letters of Administration to be appointed as the administrator of the deceased’s estate. The Intestate Succession Act sets out the priority of each class of family members who are entitled to a grant of Letters of Administration. The order of priority is as follows:

  1. Spouse
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Siblings
  5. Nephews and nieces
  6. Grandparents
  7. Uncles and aunts

If a family member with a higher priority does not wish to be appointed as an administrator, he/she should renounce his/her right to apply for the letters of administration by signing a renunciation. 

Alternatively, a family member may make an application for the Public Trustee to administer the deceased's estate if the total value of the deceased’s estate does not exceed S$50,000. Such applications may be made directly to the Public Trustee.