Private client law in Singapore: overview

A Q&A guide to private client law in Singapore.

The Q&A gives a high level overview of tax; tax residence; inheritance tax; buying property; wills and estate management; succession regimes; intestacy; trusts; co-ownership; familial relationships; minority and capacity, and proposals for reform.

To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions, visit the Private client Country Q&A tool.

This Q&A is part of the global guide to private client law. For a full list of jurisdictional Q&As visit www.practicallaw.com/privateclient-guide.

Krishna Ramachandra and Derrick Boo, Duane Morris & Selvam LLP
Contents

Taxation

Tax year and payment dates

1. When does the official tax year start and finish in your jurisdiction and what are the tax payment dates/deadlines?

Income tax is assessed on a preceding year basis, meaning that the income assessed to tax in a year of assessment (YA) is the income gained in the immediately preceding year (basis period).

For individual taxpayers, the basis period normally corresponds to the calendar year. The individual income tax return filing deadline is 15 April (for physical filings) and 18 April (for electronic filings) each YA.

For corporate taxpayers, the basis period is the taxpayer's financial year. All companies must submit two corporate income tax forms:

  • An estimated chargeable income form, which is generally due within three months from the company's financial year-end.

  • A corporate income tax return, which is due by 30 November (for physical filings) and 15 December (for electronic filings) each YA.

 

Domicile and residence

2. What concepts determine tax liability in your jurisdiction (for example, domicile and residence)? In what context(s) are they relevant and how do they impact on a taxpayer?

For income tax purposes, a distinction is drawn between taxable revenue gains and non-taxable capital gains. Only revenue gains are subject to income tax. There are no capital gains taxes in Singapore.

Source

Income tax is generally chargeable on income accruing in or derived from Singapore (Singapore-sourced income) and income accruing in or derived from outside Singapore (foreign-sourced income) that is received or deemed to be received in Singapore.

Individual taxpayers are exempt from tax on foreign-sourced income, even where such income is received in Singapore (that is, paid into a Singapore bank account), except where such income is received by an individual through a partnership in Singapore, or if the individual's overseas employment is incidental to his/her Singapore employment.

Domicile and nationality

Income tax is generally imposed irrespective of nationality and domicile, although a taxpayer's nationality may have other implications, for example in relation to stamp duty (see Question 11) and estate administration (see Question 19).

Residence

A foreign individual is treated as a Singapore resident for income tax purposes if he resides or exercises an employment (other than as a director of a company) in Singapore as follows:

  • For at least 183 days in a calendar year.

  • For at least 183 days continuously over two years (excluding directors of a company, public entertainers or professionals).

  • Continuously for three consecutive years.

The basis of taxation for resident and non-resident individuals is generally the same, and the main difference is the applicable income tax rates (see Question 6). In addition, non-resident individuals are not entitled to the tax reliefs and treaty benefits that resident individuals are entitled to.

A company is resident in Singapore if the control and management of its business is exercised in Singapore. The basis of taxation for resident and non-resident companies is generally the same. However, resident companies are entitled to treaty benefits and can enjoy certain tax benefits, such as exemptions on foreign-sourced dividends, branch profits and service income, which non-resident companies are not entitled to.

 

Taxation on exit

3. Does your jurisdiction impose any tax when a person leaves (for example, an exit tax)? Are there any other consequences of leaving (particularly with regard to individuals domiciled in your jurisdiction)?

Singapore does not impose exit taxes.

Foreign employees who leave Singapore for more than three months must go through a tax clearance procedure before leaving the jurisdiction. The tax clearance procedure ensures that the foreign employee settles in full all Singapore taxes owed prior to departure, but no additional taxes are imposed.

 

Temporary residents

4. Does your jurisdiction have any particular tax rules affecting temporary residents?

Employment income received by certain short-term (that is, 60 days or less) visiting employees is exempt from income tax.

This rule does not apply if:

  • The employee is a director of a company, a public entertainer, or a professional in Singapore

  • The employee's absences from Singapore are incidental to their Singapore employment. In this case, their total income (including income for services rendered outside Singapore) is taxable in full in Singapore.

 

Taxes on the gains and income of foreign nationals

5. How are gains on real estate or other assets owned by a foreign national taxed? What are the relevant tax rates?

There are no capital gains taxes in Singapore. However, gains on the disposal of real estate or other assets owned by a foreign national which are considered to be taxable trading gains will be subject to Singapore income tax (see Question 6).

 
6. How is income received by a foreign national taxed? Is there a withholding tax? What are the income tax rates?

Individual income tax is generally imposed on Singapore-sourced income irrespective of nationality and domicile. The applicable tax rates depend primarily on whether the foreign national is considered to be resident or non-resident in Singapore (see Question 2, Residence).

Resident individuals are taxed at progressive rates ranging from 0% to 22% (with effect from year of assessment (YA) 2017).

Non-resident individuals are taxed as follows:

  • Employment income: higher of flat rate of 15% or resident rates.

  • Interest, commissions, fees or other payments in connection with any loan or indebtedness: withholding tax at 15%.

  • Royalties or other lump sum payments for the use of movable properties: withholding tax at 10%.

  • Payment for the use of or the right to use scientific, technical, industrial or commercial knowledge or information: withholding tax at 10%.

  • Rent or other payments for the use of movable properties: withholding tax at 15%.

  • Revenue gains from real property transaction: withholding tax at 15%.

  • Director fees and other income: withholding tax at 22% (with effect from YA 2017).

  • Income received by non-resident professionals (such as consultants, trainers and coaches) for services performed in Singapore: withholding tax at 15% of gross income/fees payable or 22% on net income (with effect from year of assessment (YA) 2017).

 

Inheritance tax and lifetime gifts

7. What is the basis of the inheritance tax or gift tax regime (or alternative regime if relevant)?

Estate duty has been abolished in respect of deaths occurring on or after 15 February 2008.

Singapore does not have a gift tax regime, although stamp duties are chargeable on certain documents relating to Singapore immovable property and stocks or shares in Singapore companies (see Question 11).

 
8. What are the inheritance tax or gift tax rates (or alternative rates if relevant)?

Singapore does not have an inheritance tax or gift tax regime.

 
9. Does the inheritance tax or gift tax regime apply to foreign owners of real estate and other assets?

Singapore does not have an inheritance tax or gift tax regime.

 
10. Are there any other taxes on death or on lifetime gifts?

There are stamp duty implications on a conveyance or transfer of Singapore real estate or stocks and shares operating as a voluntary disposition inter vivos (see Question 11).

 

Taxes on buying real estate and other assets

11. Are there any other taxes that a foreign national must consider when buying real estate and other assets in your jurisdiction?

Stamp duties

Singapore imposes stamp duties on instruments relating only to either immovable properties located in Singapore, or stocks and shares of Singapore companies.

Shares. Stamp duty generally only applies to transactions involving the shares of unlisted companies incorporated in Singapore. The rate of stamp duty is 0.2%, calculated on the higher of the consideration received for or the value of the shares transferred.

Real estate. For a conveyance on the sale of immovable property located in Singapore, three sets of stamp duty must be considered:

  • Buyer's stamp duty (BSD).

  • Additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD).

  • Seller's stamp duty (SSD).

BSD is chargeable regardless of the type of property and the type of transferee, and is generally paid by the transferee. BSD is based on the higher of the purchase price or market value of the property. The BSD rate is 1% for the first S$180,000, 2% for the next S$180,000 and 3% for the remaining amount.

ABSD is only chargeable in relation to transfers of residential property taking place after 8 December 2011. ABSD rates vary depending on the type of transferee and the numbers of existing properties held by the transferee at the time of transfer. ABSD is generally paid by the transferee, and current ABSD rates (from 12 January 2013) are as follows:

  • Entities (a person who is not an individual), whether local or foreign: 15%.

  • Foreign nationals: 15%.

  • Singapore permanent residents buying their first property: 5%;

  • Singapore permanent residents buying their second and subsequent property: 10%.

  • Singapore citizens buying their first property: no ABSD payable.

  • Singapore citizens buying their second property: 7%.

  • Singapore citizens buying their third and subsequent property: 10%.

Under free trade agreements entered into by Singapore, nationals and permanent residents of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and US nationals are afforded the same ABSD treatment as Singapore citizens.

SSD is only chargeable in relation to disposals involving:

  • Residential properties bought on or after 20 February 2010.

  • Industrial properties bought on or after 12 January 2013.

SSD rates vary depending on how long the transferor has held the property. SSD is generally paid by the transferor, and current SSD rates are set out below.

For residential properties purchased on or after 14 January 2011:

  • Holding period of up to one year: 16%.

  • Holding period of more than one year and up to two years: 12%.

  • Holding period of more than two years and up to three years: 8%.

  • Holding period of more than three years and up to four years: 4%.

  • Holding period of more than four years: no SSD payable.

For industrial properties purchased on or after 12 January 2013:

  • Holding period of up to one year: 15%.

  • Holding period of more than one year and up to two years: 10%.

  • Holding period of more than two years and up to three years: 5%.

  • Holding period of more than three years: no SSD payable.

Relief from stamp duty. Applications can be made to the Commissioner of Stamp Duties to seek relief from stamp duty for certain transactions, including where:

  • The transfer results from the reconstruction or amalgamation of companies.

  • The transfer results from the transfer of assets between associated permitted entities.

Goods and services tax (GST)

GST is chargeable on the supply of non-residential properties. The current rate of GST is 7%.

Property tax

Property tax is imposed annually on owners of immovable properties located in Singapore. The property tax rates are as follows:

  • Commercial and industrial properties: 10% of the property's annual value.

  • Non-owner occupied residential properties: progressive rates of up to 20%.

Preferential rates apply to owner-occupied residential properties.

 
12. What tax-advantageous real estate holding structures are available in your jurisdiction for non-resident individuals?

There are no particular real estate holding structures that are universally tax-advantageous for all non-resident individuals. The choice of a holding structure for Singapore real estate will depend on the specific circumstances of the non-resident owner. For example, non-residents subject to inheritance taxes in their home jurisdiction may wish to hold Singapore real estate through a Singapore discretionary trust structure.

 

Taxes on overseas real estate and other assets

13. How are residents in your jurisdiction with real estate or other assets overseas taxed?

Singapore resident individuals are largely exempt from tax on foreign-sourced income (except where such income is received through a partnership in Singapore).

There is no capital gains tax in Singapore.

 

International tax treaties

14. Is your jurisdiction a party to many double tax treaties with other jurisdictions?

Singapore has concluded more than 80 double tax treaties, which cover most major economies within the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

 

Wills and estate administration

Governing law and formalities

15. Is it essential for an owner of assets in your jurisdiction to make a will in your jurisdiction? Does the will have to be governed by the laws of your jurisdiction?

If a person dies without leaving a will, the distribution of his/her assets in Singapore will be governed by Singapore intestacy law (see Questions 28 and 29).

A will does not need to be governed by Singapore law to be recognised as a valid will in Singapore. However, it is generally recommended to have a Singapore will covering Singapore assets.

 
16. What are the formalities for making a will in your jurisdiction? Do they vary depending on the nationality, residence and/or domicile of the testator?

The formalities for executing a will in Singapore are as follows:

  • The testator must sign at the foot or end of the will.

  • The signature must be made or acknowledged by the testator as the signature to his/her will.

  • The will must be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, present at the same time. The witnesses must not be beneficiaries or spouses of the beneficiaries of the will.

  • The witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the testator.

The formalities set out above apply regardless of the testator's nationality, residence or domicile.

 

Redirecting entitlements

17. What rules apply if beneficiaries redirect their entitlements?

If a beneficiary redirects his/her entitlement to another person, such redirection can be characterised as a gift by the beneficiary to that person. Depending on the type of asset redirected, there may be stamp duty implications on the transfer on gift.

 

Validity of foreign wills and foreign grants of probate

18. To what extent are wills made in another jurisdiction recognised as valid/enforced in your jurisdiction? Does your jurisdiction recognise a foreign grant of probate (or its equivalent) or are further formalities required?

Validity of foreign wills

A will executed outside of Singapore is treated as properly executed if its execution conforms to the law in force in the:

  • Territory where it was executed.

  • Territory where the testator was domiciled at the time when the will was executed or at the time of his/her death.

  • Territory where the testator habitually resided at the time when the will was executed or at the time of his/her death.

  • State of which the testator was a national at the time when the will was executed or at the time of his/her death.

Validity of foreign grants of probate

A grant of probate obtained from a Commonwealth country or Hong Kong can be resealed in Singapore. Once resealed, such a grant will have the same force and effect as a Singapore grant.

A grant of probate obtained from any other country cannot be resealed in Singapore. The personal representatives will need to apply for a fresh grant in Singapore to administer any Singapore assets.

 

Death of foreign nationals

19. Are there any relevant practical estate administration issues if foreign nationals die in your jurisdiction?

All deaths occurring in Singapore must be registered within 24 hours of occurrence. A death certificate will be issued on completion of registration.

 

Administering the estate

20. Who is responsible for administering the estate and in whom does it initially vest?

Responsibility for administering

The personal representative is either an executor (appointed by the deceased in his/her will) or an administrator (if the deceased did not have a will).

Generally, the duties of a personal representative are as follows:

  • Paying off the debts of the deceased.

  • Calling in the assets that constitute the estate of the deceased.

  • Holding the estate in trust.

  • Distributing the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the deceased's will or intestacy laws.

Vesting

Generally, the estate initially vests in the personal representatives, who are responsible for administering the estate.

 
21. What is the procedure on death in your jurisdiction for tax and other purposes in relation to:
  • Establishing title and gathering in assets (including any particular considerations for non-resident executors)?

  • Paying taxes?

  • Distributing?

Establishing title and gathering in assets

There are no prescribed procedures for establishing title and gathering in the assets of the deceased. In practice, the inquiry into the testator's assets generally involves searches conducted with the Singapore Land Registry, as well as written correspondence with the various financial and custodial institutions that the deceased was known to have a relationship with.

Procedure for paying taxes

Estate duty. There is no estate duty imposed on deaths occurring on or after 15 February 2008.

Income tax. Income earned by the deceased up to the date of death, if not yet reported, must be reported by the personal representative(s). Personal representatives must also file income tax returns relating to income derived by the estate post-death and not distributed in the year in which the income is derived. In both cases, income tax will normally be assessed in the names of the personal representative(s).

Property tax. Property tax on property registered in the name of the deceased will be issued to the personal representative(s).

Distributing the estate

The executor must first prove the will and obtain a grant of probate from the courts. Thereafter, the executor will distribute the estate to the lawful beneficiaries, as expressly provided for in the will. Distributions should not be made until the executor has ascertained the assets of the estate and discharged all debts.

There is no income tax on the receipt by beneficiaries of capital distributions out of the deceased's estate. Estate income distributed to beneficiaries in the same year in which the income is derived is taxable in the hands of the beneficiaries, rather than the estate.

There is no stamp duty on the transfer by assent of immovable properties and shares to beneficiaries, in accordance with a deceased person's will.

 
22. Are there any time limits/restrictions/valuation issues that are particularly relevant to an estate with an element in another jurisdiction?

An application for a grant of probate or letters of administration is to be made within six months of the death. If the application is made more than six months after the death, the personal representatives must make a statement of probate setting out the reason for the delay in making the application.

 
23. Is it possible for a beneficiary to challenge a will/the executors/the administrators?

It is possible for a beneficiary to challenge a deceased's will and/or the actions of the executors. Common grounds for such actions include challenging the validity of the will and questioning the fitness of the executor or administrator.

Certain family members (such as the spouse or a disabled child), whether beneficiaries of a will or otherwise, can also apply to court for a reasonable provision for maintenance under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act (Cap. 138), if the deceased was domiciled in Singapore at the time of death.

Where the deceased was a Muslim person domiciled in Singapore, the administration of the estate can also be challenged on the basis that it was not conducted in accordance with the forced heirship regime provided for under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3) (see Question 25).

 

Succession regimes

24. What is the succession regime in your jurisdiction (for example, is there a forced heirship regime)?

The two main regimes for succession or inheritance apply. There is no generally applicable forced heirship regime in Singapore. The forced heirship rules apply in relation to the estates of Muslim persons domiciled in Singapore at the time of death.

The forced heirship regime does not apply to the estates of non-Singapore domiciled Muslims. For non-Singapore domiciled Muslims, the succession and inheritance of their estate will depend on whether or not they have executed a will. If there is a valid will, the individual is regarded as having died testate and the succession of his/her assets is in accordance with the terms of the will. An intestate estate where the deceased person has not executed a will is administered under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 146).

 

Forced heirship regimes

25. What are the main characteristics of the forced heirship regime, if any, in your jurisdiction?

The distribution of the estate of a Muslim person domiciled in Singapore at the time of death is regulated by the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3), which:

  • Imposes certain restrictions on the ability of Singapore-domiciled Muslim testators to dispose of property by will.

  • Provides that the distribution of the estates of Singapore-domiciled Muslims who die intestate must be made in accordance with Muslim law, instead of the generally applicable intestacy rules.

 

Real estate or other assets owned by foreign nationals

26. Are real estate or other assets owned by a foreign national subject to your succession laws or the laws of the foreign national's original country?

If a foreign national dies intestate:

  • His/her movable property that is located in Singapore will be distributed according to the laws of the country in which he was domiciled at the time of his/her death.

  • His/her immovable property located in Singapore will be distributed according to the laws of Singapore, regardless of where he/she was domiciled at the time of his/her death.

 
27. Do your courts apply the doctrine of renvoi in relation to succession to immovable property?

There have been no reported cases on the application of renvoi in relation to succession to immovable property in Singapore.

 

Intestacy

28. What different succession rules, if any, apply to the intestate?

Singapore's intestacy regime is set out in the Intestate Succession Act (Cap. 146).

Under the Act, the movable property of an intestate will be distributed according to the laws of the country in which he/she was domiciled at the time of his/her death, while the distribution of Singapore immovable property will be regulated by Singapore intestacy rules.

The Singapore intestacy rules are as follows:

  • Rule 1. If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse, no issue and no parent: the spouse is entitled to the whole of the estate.

  • Rule 2. If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and issue: the spouse is entitled to half of the estate.

  • Rule 3. Subject to the rights of the surviving spouse, the estate of an intestate who leaves issue must be distributed by equal portions per stirpes to and among the children of the intestate and the persons who legally represent those children (in the case any of those children are dead). The following provisos apply:

    • proviso No. (1): the persons who legally represent the children of an intestate are their descendants and not their next-of-kin;

    • proviso No. (2): descendants of the intestate to the remotest degree stand in the place of their parent or other ancestor.

  • Rule 4. If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and no issue but a parent or parents: the spouse is entitled to half of the estate, and the parent(s) to the other half.

  • Rule 5. If there are no descendants: the parents of the intestate take the estate (in equal portions if there are two parents), subject to the rights of the surviving spouse (if any) as provided in rule 4.

  • Rule 6. If there are no surviving spouse, descendants or parents: the brothers and sisters, and children of deceased brothers or sisters of the intestate share the estate in equal portions.

  • Rule 7. If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters, but grandparents of the intestate: the grandparents take the whole of the estate in equal portions.

  • Rule 8. If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or their children or grandparents, but uncles and aunts of the intestate: the uncles and aunts take the whole of the estate in equal portions.

  • Rule 9. In default of distribution under rules 1 to 8: the government is entitled to the whole of the estate.

 
29. Is it possible for beneficiaries to challenge the adequacy of their provision under the intestacy rules?

It is not possible for beneficiaries to challenge the adequacy of their provision under the intestacy rules. However, certain family members (such as the spouse or a disabled child) can apply to court for a reasonable provision for maintenance under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act (Cap. 138) if the deceased was domiciled in Singapore at the time of death.

 

Trusts

30. Are trusts (or an alternative structure) recognised in your jurisdiction?

Trusts are recognised in Singapore.

The law of trusts in Singapore has the same roots as the English law of trusts. English principles and rules of equity are still fundamentally followed. The Application of English Law Act (Cap. 7A) states that the "common law of England (including the principles and rules of equity), so far as it was part of the law of Singapore immediately before 12 November 1993, shall continue to be part of the law of Singapore".

Key statutes relevant to trustees and trusts in the private client context are the:

  • Trustees Act (Cap. 337). This Act contains refinements to certain aspects of the common law of trusts, in particular in relation to the:

    • trustee's duty of care;

    • trustees' powers of investment and other general powers; and

    • appointment of agents, nominees and custodians by trustees.

  • Trust Companies Act (Cap 336). This Act sets up the trust business licensing regime regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Trust business activities regulated under the Act are:

    • the provision of services for the creation of an express trust;

    • acting as a trustee in relation to an express trust;

    • arranging for any person to act as trustee in relation to an express trust; and

    • the provision of trust administration services in relation to an express trust.

Type of trust and taxation

Type of trust. The two broad categories of express trusts are:

  • Fixed interest trusts. In fixed interest trusts, the extent of each beneficiary's share in the trust assets, as well as the timing and manner in which distributions must be made, are specified in advance.

  • Discretionary trusts. In discretionary trusts, the trustees have the power to determine how much, if anything, each beneficiary can receive. The extent of each beneficiary's share, as well as the timing and manner in which distributions must be made, are not specified in advance and left to the trustees' discretion.

Taxation. Trust income in Singapore is only taxed once, either at the trustee's level (tax opaque treatment) or at the beneficiary's level (tax transparent treatment), as follows:

  • Tax transparent treatment applies where resident beneficiaries are entitled to trust income. No tax will be imposed at the trustee's level and the beneficiaries are subject to tax on their entitlement to the share of trust income at the applicable personal income tax rates. Beneficiaries will also benefit from any concessions, exemptions and foreign tax credits as if they had received trust income directly. Whether or not a beneficiary is entitled to trust income is a question of fact. As a general rule, where trust income is distributed to the beneficiaries within the same year in which the trust income is derived, the beneficiaries are treated as being entitled to the income distributed.

  • Tax opaque treatment applies to:

    • income derived from a trade or business carried on by the trustee(s);

    • trust income to which beneficiaries are not entitled; and

    • trust income to which non-resident beneficiaries are entitled.

Such trust income is subject to a final tax at the trustee's level at the prevailing corporate income tax rate (which is currently 17%). Distributions made out of such income are not subject to any further tax in the hands of the beneficiaries.

Tax incentives. There are two tax incentive schemes that are significant in the private client context:

  • Locally administered trusts. Eligible locally administered trusts and their holding companies benefit from an income tax exemption on most forms of passive investment income.

  • Foreign trusts. Qualifying foreign trusts benefit from an income tax exemption on most forms of passive investment income. A foreign trust is defined as a trust created in writing, in which all settlors and beneficiaries are foreigners.

Residence of trusts

Trusts do not have a separate legal personality. The income of a trust is assessed on the trustee, and the residence of a trust is also that of the trustee.

The basis of taxation for resident and non-resident trusts is generally the same. However, the concept of residence becomes significant when seeking benefits under tax treaties.

 
31. Does your jurisdiction recognise trusts that are governed by another jurisdiction's laws and are created for foreign persons?

The Singapore courts have, in reported cases, implicitly recognised the validity of trusts governed by the laws of another jurisdiction.

 
32. What are the tax consequences of trustees (for example, of an English trust) becoming resident in/leaving your jurisdiction?

A change in the residence of a trustee can affect the residence status of the trust. The basis of taxation for resident and non-resident trusts is generally the same. For income tax purposes, the key difference between resident and non-resident trusts is the applicable income tax exemptions (see Question 30, Type of trust and taxation). There are no additional taxes levied on a Singapore-resident trust that becomes resident in a foreign jurisdiction.

 
33. If your jurisdiction has its own trust law:
  • Does the law provide specifically for the creation of non-charitable purpose trusts?

  • Does the law restrict the perpetuity period within which gifts in trusts must vest, or the period during which income may be accumulated?

  • Can the trust document restrict the beneficiaries' rights to information about the trust?

Purpose trusts

Non-charitable purpose trusts are generally not valid. There are certain recognised exceptions to this general rule (for example, trusts to care for particular animals, or trusts to erect and maintain specific tombs), which are of limited practical significance.

Perpetuities and accumulations

The statutory perpetuity period is 100 years.

Income arising from a settlement made on or after 15 December 2004 can be accumulated for the duration of the settlement, subject to any terms of the settlement to the contrary.

Beneficiaries' rights to information

Trustees have a general fiduciary duty to account to the beneficiaries. Therefore, beneficiaries are entitled to request information about the trust, but are not absolutely entitled to receive such information.

If trustees refuse to disclose information, a beneficiary can make an application to the courts for a delivery-up order to compel the trustees to disclose the desired information. Such a court order can be for full or partial disclosure, depending on the scope of information requested and the nature of the beneficiary's interest in the trust assets, and will generally only cover trust documents (such as the trust deed and trust accounts).

 
34. Does the law in your jurisdiction recognise claims against trust assets by the spouse/civil partner of a settlor or beneficiary on the dissolution of the marriage/partnership?

The Family Justice Courts have broad powers to make orders for the division of matrimonial assets between divorcing parties. The courts will take all the circumstances of the case into account to determine the pool of matrimonial assets, which can include interests under a trust and/or assets settled into a trust.

There have been reported cases in which the courts have exercised their discretion to include trust assets within the pool of matrimonial assets in divorce proceedings. Therefore, the spouse of a settlor or beneficiary can claim against trust assets on divorce.

 
35. To what extent does the law of your jurisdiction allow trusts to be used to shelter assets from the creditors of a settlor or beneficiary?

Protection from creditors of a beneficiary

A fixed entitlement under a trust will generally be considered to be creating an equitable interest in the trust assets in favour of the beneficiary. Therefore, trust assets are vulnerable to the claims of creditors of the beneficiary.

A potential discretionary entitlement under a discretionary trust (before the exercise of the trustees' discretion to appoint specific property in the beneficiary's favour) will generally be considered to be too inchoate to constitute an equitable interest in the trust assets, therefore sheltering such assets from the claims of creditors of the beneficiary.

Protection from creditors of the settlor

As a general rule, assets settled into a trust no longer form part of the settlor's estate and are not available to meet the claims of the settlor's creditors. Therefore, a trust structure will often shelter the trust's assets from creditors of the settlor.

However, the courts can set aside a trust, rendering the trust assets vulnerable to the claims of the settlor's creditors, where a trust:

  • Is made with the intention to defraud creditors.

  • Constitutes a transaction at an undervalue or an unfair preference, as defined under the Bankruptcy Act (Cap. 20).

 

Charities

36. Are charities recognised in your jurisdiction?

Charities are recognised in Singapore. The main governing law is the Charities Act (Cap. 37), which defines a charity as "any institution, corporate or not, which is established for charitable purposes".

Although the term "charitable purposes" is not specifically defined in statute, four broad categories of charitable purpose are generally recognised:

  • The relief of poverty.

  • The advancement of education.

  • The advancement of religion.

  • Other charitable purposes that are beneficial to the community.

Charitable purposes that benefit the community include the:

  • Advancement of health.

  • Advancement of citizenship or community development.

  • Advancement of arts, heritage or science.

  • Advancement of environmental protection.

  • Relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantages.

  • Advancement of animal welfare.

  • Advancement of sport, where sport advances health through physical skill and exertion.

 
37. If charities are recognised in your jurisdiction, how can an individual donor set up a charity?

There is no statutorily prescribed form in which charities can be set up. In practice, charity status is generally only granted to charitable organisations that are set up as:

  • Charitable purpose trusts.

  • Societies.

  • Companies limited by guarantee.

To be registered as a charity, a charitable organisation must satisfy the following three conditions:

  • The purposes or objects of the organisation must be exclusively charitable.

  • The purposes or objects of the organisation must be beneficial wholly or substantially to the community in Singapore.

  • The organisation must have at least three governing board members, at least two of whom must be Singapore citizens or Singapore permanent residents.

A charitable organisation that has gross annual receipts of not less than S$10 million in each of the previous two financial years is classified as a large charity. There are additional qualifying conditions imposed on large charities.

An application to register as a charity must be made within three months from the date of establishment of the charitable organisation.

Charities in Singapore are overseen by the Commissioner of Charities (COC), which also keeps the register of charities. The COC is assisted in its tasks by the following institutions:

  • Ministry of Education, for charitable objects relating to the advancement of education.

  • Ministry of Health, for charitable objects related to the promotion of health.

  • Ministry of Social and Family Development, for charitable objects related to the relief of poverty or the relief of those in need by reason of youth, age, ill-health, disability, financial hardship or other disadvantages.

  • People's Association, for charitable objects related to the advancement of citizenship or community development.

  • Sport Singapore, for charitable objects related to the advancement of sport.

 
38. What are the benefits for individuals when setting up charitable organisations?

The benefits of setting up a charity are as follows:

  • Full income tax exemption on income and receipts.

  • Full property tax exemption on buildings used exclusively for charitable purposes. Where only parts of a building are used for charitable purposes, partial exemption may be granted. There is also a property tax exemption where land is used, is being developed or will be developed into a building for charitable purposes.

  • Charities do not need to obtain a fundraising permit before soliciting funds from the public, which simplifies and facilitates fundraising efforts.

Donations to charitable organisations are tax deductible against the donor's statutory income only where they are made to charities with approved Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. Not all charities have approved IPC status. The key conditions for obtaining approved IPC status are as follows:

  • The activities of the charitable organisation must be beneficial to the community in Singapore as a whole, and not confined to sectional interests or group of persons based on race, creed, belief or religion, unless otherwise approved by the relevant minister.

  • These activities must meet the charitable organisation's objectives under its governing instruments, and the objectives of the relevant Ministry or institution (see Question 37).

  • The charitable organisation must be administered by governing board members, at least half of whom are independent and Singapore citizens.

  • The auditors of the charitable organisation must be approved by the relevant Ministry or institution (see Question 37).

To encourage charitable donations, donors enjoy enhanced tax deductions on qualifying donations of 250% for donations made from 1 January 2016 to 31 December 2018.

 

Ownership and familial relationships

Co-ownership

39. What are the laws regarding co-ownership and how do they impact on taxes, succession and estate administration?

Co-owners of immovable property can be registered as either:

  • Joint tenants. Each joint tenant holds an undivided share in the property. On the death of a co-owner, the property automatically passes to the surviving co-owner(s) without forming part of the deceased's estate.

  • Tenants in common. Each tenant in common holds a separate and distinct share in the property. On the death of a co-owner, the deceased's share in the property passes in accordance with his/her will or the applicable intestacy rules.

 

Familial relationships

40. What matrimonial regimes in trust or succession law exist in your jurisdiction? Are the rights of cohabitees/civil partners in real estate or other assets protected by law?

Matrimonial regime

The statutory basis of the matrimonial regime in Singapore is the Women's Charter (Cap. 353).

There is no community of property in Singapore. A spouse does not have any automatic rights to his/her partner's assets solely by virtue of being the owner's spouse. The Family Justice Courts have broad powers to order the just and equitable division of matrimonial assets between the parties on divorce or dissolution of the marriage.

During the marriage, husbands have a duty to provide reasonable maintenance to their lawfully married wives. The court can also order a man to pay maintenance to his former wife on divorce.

The recent Women's Charter (Amendment) Act 2016 amended the Women's Charter (Cap. 353) to require women to maintain their incapacitated husbands or former husbands.

Where a spouse dies intestate, a lawful spouse will generally be entitled to a share in his/her spouse's assets under the statutory intestacy rules (see Question 28). Surviving spouses can also bring a claim for a reasonable provision of maintenance from their late spouse's estate under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act (Cap. 138) (see Question 23).

Cohabitees and civil partners

The term "spouse" does not typically include cohabitees or civil partners. Therefore, on separation, cohabitees and civil partners generally do not have the rights and privileges enjoyed by lawful spouses.

The duty of parents to maintain their children extend to illegitimate children. Therefore, an unmarried parent can make a claim against the other parent for the maintenance of their child.

Under Singapore trust law, cohabitees or civil partners who are not legal owners of a property can acquire a beneficial interest in the property through their financial contributions to the purchase price of the property. The courts can also impose a trust in favour of a cohabitee or civil partner in circumstances where there is sufficient evidence of an express or inferred common intention that the cohabitee or civil partner should hold a beneficial interest in the property. This is a complex area of law, for which the applicable principles have been laid down by the Singapore Court of Appeal in the case of Chan Yuen Lan v See Fong Mun [2014] SGCA 36.

 
41. Is there a form of recognised relationship for same-sex couples and how are they treated for tax and succession purposes?

The Women's Charter (Cap. 353) specifically provides that marriages between persons of the same sex are void. Accordingly, there is no form of recognised relationship for same-sex couples in Singapore.

In addition, a member of a same-sex couple will not be considered a spouse under the Intestate Succession Act. Therefore, same-sex couples should consider seeking specific succession planning advice.

 
42. How are the following terms defined in law:
  • Married?

  • Divorced?

  • Adopted?

  • Legitimate?

  • Civil partnership?

Married

A marriage is the voluntary union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others during the continuance of the marriage. Both parties must be unmarried and consent to the marriage, and there must be no other factors that invalidate the marriage (for example, family relationship, age, gender or incapacity).

A marriage that meets this definition and is contracted outside Singapore will be recognised in Singapore provided that it is recognised by the law of the place where it was contracted.

Civil marriages in Singapore are governed by the Women's Charter (Cap. 353) and Muslim marriages in Singapore are governed by the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3).

Divorced

Divorce is the legal dissolution of marriage under either the Women's Charter (Cap. 353) or the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3)

Adopted

When an adoption order is issued, the adopted child's legal ties with his/her biological parents are broken and transferred to the adoptive parents, who assume all rights, duties, obligations and liabilities over the adopted child as if the adopted child was a child born to the adoptive parents in lawful wedlock. The adoption of children is governed by the Adoption of Children Act (Cap. 4).

Legitimate

A legitimate child is a child born in lawful wedlock or that has become legitimate under the Legitimacy Act (Cap. 162).

Civil partnership

There is no system of recognition of civil partnerships in Singapore.

 

Minority

43. What rules apply during the period when an heir is a minor? Can a minor own assets and who can deal with those assets on the minor's behalf?

Age of majority

The age of majority under common law is 21 years.

There is no statutorily prescribed age of majority that applies generally. However, several statutes fix various ages of majority that apply in specific cases. For example, under the Civil Law Act (Cap. 43), a person who has reached 18 years of age can enter into certain contracts and can bring or defend legal actions in his/her own name.

Rules applicable to minors

A minor can own assets, although he/she cannot deal with those assets until he/she reaches the relevant age of majority. Typically, the parents or the legal guardian(s) will deal with the assets on the minor's behalf.

Minors can be beneficiaries under a will, although they cannot give valid receipt for a legacy. Where a minor is beneficially entitled to any trust property, the court can make an order to appoint a person to convey such property.

 

Capacity and power of attorney

44. What procedures apply when a person loses capacity? Does your jurisdiction recognise powers of attorney (or their equivalent) made under the law of other jurisdictions?

The statutory regime relating to capacity and powers of attorney is set out in the Mental Capacity Act (Cap. 177A).

When a person loses capacity, an application can be made to the courts for the appointment of one or more deputies to make decisions on behalf of the person who lost capacity.

Before a person loses capacity, the person can sign a lasting power of attorney (LPA). The LPA allows a person who is at least 21 years of age (donor) to voluntarily appoint one or more persons (donee(s)) to make decisions and act on behalf of the donor in the case the donor loses mental capacity.

Generally, only valid LPAs registered in Singapore will be recognised in Singapore. Singapore is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the International Protection of Adults, which requires signatories to recognise powers of attorney (or their equivalent) made under the law of other jurisdictions.

 

Proposals for reform

45. Are there any proposals to reform private client law in your jurisdiction?

A number of reform proposals relating to private client law are currently under way:

  • Review of the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act and the Intestate Succession Act (ISA). The Ministry of Law has stated their intention to review these statutes to provide for the reasonable provision of maintenance to illegitimate children, step children and elderly parents.

  • Enforcement of matrimonial orders. The Law Reform Committee of the Singapore Academy of Law has published a report examining the cross-border issues relating to the reciprocal enforcement of matrimonial orders and the grant of ancillary orders after a foreign divorce.

 

Online resources

Singapore Statutes Online

W statutes.agc.gov.sg ( www.practicallaw.com/0-521-2191)

Description. This is the official Singapore Government website for online publication of the full text of all current Singapore legislation.

Supreme Court of Singapore

W app.supremecourt.gov.sg ( www.practicallaw.com/8-605-1051)

Description. This website provides access to the Rules of Court, as well as to consolidated Practice Directions and Registrar's circulars.

Parliament of Singapore

W www.parliament.gov.sg

Description. This website provides access to the full text of bills (from 2005 onwards), parliamentary debates, parliamentary reports, standing orders, and lists of members of current and previous Parliaments.

Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore

W www.iras.gov.sg

Description. This website provides access to the full text of all double tax agreements entered into by Singapore, as well as to e-Tax Guides (formal written guidance from the revenue authorities).



Contributor profiles

Krishna Ramachandra, Managing Director

Duane Morris & Selvam LLP

T +65 6311 0033
F +65 6311 0058
E kramachandra@duanemorrisselvam.com
W www.duanemorrisselvam.com

Areas of practice. Capital markets; mergers and acquisitions; commercial law; investment funds and private client; private equity and venture capital; telecommunications, media and technology; sports.

Non-professional qualifications. LLB (Hons), University of Leeds; LLM, University of Cambridge; Postgraduate Diploma, College of Law, London

Professional associations/memberships. Singapore Institute of Directors; Singapore Academy of Law; The Law Society of Singapore.

Publications:

  • Chapter 11: Global Tax Considerations in Private Fund Formation, Private Equity International, 1 August 2016;

  • Chapter 48: Myanmar, Mergers and Acquisitions Review, 2016.

  • Htin Kyaw — What Now?, Acquisition International Magazine, 1 April 2016.

  • Chapter 46: Myanmar, Mergers and Acquisitions Review, 2015.

  • Myanmar Insider, Storm, 17 February 2015.

  • Investing in ASEAN: What Foreign Investors Need to Know, Investing in ASEAN, 2011.

Derrick Boo, Senior Associate

Duane Morris & Selvam LLP

T +65 6311 3664
F +65 6311 0058
E dboo@duanemorrisselvam.com
W www.duanemorrisselvam.com

Professional qualifications. Singapore, Advocate and Solicitor; Member, State Bar of California

Areas of practice. General corporate; banking and finance; private equity; capital markets; mergers and acquisition.

Non-professional qualifications. JD, USC Gould School of Law; BS, Indiana University, Kelly School of Business.

Professional associations/memberships. Singapore Academy of Law; The Law Society of Singapore.

Publications:

  • Chapter 11: Global Tax Considerations in Private Fund Formation, Private Equity International, 1 August 2016.

  • Offshore Indian Rupee Bonds or "Masala Bonds", Duane Morris & Selvam LLP, July 3, 2016.

  • Setting Up Corporate Headquarters in Singapore: Benefits for Indian Companies, Duane Morris & Selvam LLP, 3 July 2016.


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