What is a Person’s “Domicile” and Its Relevance for Probate and Administration

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

A person’s domicile is basically the place where he intends to make his permanent or ultimate home and where he will return to, even if he may presently reside somewhere else. In the law of probate and administration, the domicile of a person determines the right of that person to make a will and how his estate is to be distributed. The domicile therefore also determines the country where the primary probate process is to be obtained in relation to the deceased’s estate and the rights of his personal representatives to administer his estate.

Some of the factors that determine a person’s domicile include:
• his nationality and place of residence;
• whether the person has bought or owns any property in the country;
• whether his family is with him;
• the length of time that he has been living in a particular country.

For some people who may have several ‘residences’ and other assets in different countries, his personal representatives may have to confirm and prove the most probable country of domicile. A person can possess only one domicile at any one time.

Case Study of Peter Rogers May v Pinder Lillian Gek Lian [2006] SGHC 39

In the proceedings, issues were raised as to whether the deceased had died domiciled in Singapore or in England. The executor had commenced probate proceedings in Singapore on the basis that for the last 30 years of the deceased’s life, Singapore had represented the focal point of his personal, social, financial and business activities. Documents, such as the deceased’s passports, his personal tax submissions and newspaper reports articulating his actual intentions all served to fortify the conclusion that the deceased was domiciled in Singapore prior to his death. He had also significantly assumed Singapore citizenship.

On the other hand, in an attempt by his widow to stay certain court proceedings, she contended that the deceased had always been domiciled in England, notwithstanding his close connection to Singapore. The deceased was born and educated in England and had at all material times an English passport in addition to his Singapore passport, stayed in London regularly, owned property in London, had married her in London and was even on the London electoral role. She also commenced proceedings in England for a declaration that the deceased had died domiciled in England. The Court ruled in favour of the executor’s application for a determination whether a notation should be endorsed on the grant of probate that the deceased died domiciled in Singapore.

The Court also held that: “A testator’s domicile was not determined by the place where a will was prepared or the identity of those involved in preparing the will. The place where a will was made and the law pursuant to which it was made did not establish or even begin to point towards the domicile of a testator. After all, even a declaration of domicile in a will was legally irrelevant as this issue would in the final analysis be determined by the court taking into account the entire matrix”.

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