The Default Intestacy Law May Have Unintended Consequences

By Mr Lee Chiwi
Excerpt from PreceptsGroup Succession and Trusts in Wealth Management (4th edition) Book

The default mechanism of the intestate distribution gives the estate of the deceased to the persons whom the law deems to be the people closest to the deceased in terms of his blood ties and marriage. However, even persons who are the parents of the deceased and dependent on him for maintenance are excluded from benefitting when there are beneficiaries who rank ahead of the parents.

87 Year-Old Grandma Kicked out of Flat as Son Did Not leave a Will

In 2008, Gary Chee, 25 had successfully taken his paternal grandmother, Madam Foo to court over ownership of a three-room flat in Bedok Reservoir. Gary was the sole heir, and had inherited the home from his late father Chee Han Meng. In 1990, Chee Han Meng was divorced from his wife Alice Lin, when their son Garry was only six. Alice Lin moved out of the flat and brought up her son elsewhere. In the meantime, Chee Han Meng lived in the flat with his mother, Madam Foo. In 2006, the elder Mr Chee died of cancer at the age of 49 without leaving a will and the flat passed to his son as the sole beneficiary under the intestacy law. Madam Foo claimed it was part of the joint matrimonial property in which she had a share, despite her not being named. The court however decided that the ownership of the flat had devolved to her grandson. Gary Chee wanted to sell the flat to realize his dream of studying in Australia and filed the case with great reluctance and sadness. But then he had come to a crossroads in his life and in desperate need of funds (Straits Times, June 2, 2009 Mans goes to court to get grandma out of his flat).

  • Table Illustrating Rules of Distribution in Intestacy

  • Spouse means husband or wife. A spouse who is separated from the deceased while the deceased was alive can claim a share of the estate except when the separation was by an Order of Court.
  • Issue means a child (legitimate or legally adopted) and the descendants of a deceased’s child. Therefore, illegitimate children are NOT entitled under the Intestacy Rules.


  • Legally adopted children but not illegitimate children have succession rights on the death of an intestate under the Intestate Succession Act.
  • The Act does not apply to the estate of any Muslim or shall affect any rules of the Muslim law in respect of the distribution of the estate of any such person.
  • Property that is jointly owned shall not pass under the Intestacy Rules (or even under a will). Upon death, it passes to the surviving joint owner under the principle of survivorship.
  • No distinction is made between relatives of the same class whether of the paternal or maternal side.
  • Full blood relatives take before half blood relatives of the same class.

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