In Singapore, divorce is only granted if the marriage has irretrievably broken down, which is to be proven in four legally defined ways: Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation.
A person cannot start a divorce proceeding unless the couple has been separated for a continuous period of three years in a case of an uncontested divorce and four years in the case of a contested divorce. The years preceding the divorce is known as separation. During separation, the estranged couple is still legally married to each other.
Whether it is during a separation or after the final divorce judgement is passed, deliberate estate planning is crucial. It is important to note that a divorce does not cancel or revoke any existing will, CPF nomination or Life Insurance nomination.
Understand Estate Planning implications during separation and at divorce
|During Separation||At Divorce|
|Effect on Existing Will, CPF Nomination and Life Insurance Nomination||No effect
(Does not cancel or revoke)
(Does not cancel or revoke)
|Intestate Succession Act
(if no will)
|During separation, you are still legally married.
The estranged spouse will still get to inherit your estate (minimally 50%) if you die without a will during your separation.
The estranged spouse will have the first right to apply for the grant of letters of administration to deal with your properties after your death.
CPF Nomination cannot be distributed according to your will. If you make no CPF nomination, the CPF monies will be distributed according to ISA, as above.
|If you remain single but you have a child with your ex-spouse, the child will get to inherit 100% of your estate.
If your child is still a minor, the court may request your ex-spouse (who may be the guardian of your child) to be the administrator or a co-administrator, and your ex-spouse could still lay hands on your estate in the capacity as a parent of your child.
If you are remarried, your new spouse will be entitled to 50% of your estate and your children (from your former marriage and current marriage) will be entitled to the other half.
|If there is a will, but no insurance nomination.||Legally, an estranged couple going through a separation is still a married couple; therefore, the spouse still has significant legal rights under the law.
Even if your will excludes your estranged spouse totally, he/she can still rely on Section 3 of the Inheritance Act to seek the Court’s opinion to get some pay-out from your estate.
The estranged spouse can claim your life insurance proceeds as a proper claimant based on the Insurance Act (Section 61).
|It will be distributed according to your Will if it covers the estate from the insurance policies. Otherwise, it will be distributed according to ISA, as above.
1. Planning in case something happens to you:
- Write or rewrite your will.
Why should you do it? There is no effect of divorce and separation on existing will. To ensure your estate is distributed according to wishes and not rely on the Intestate Succession Act, appoint an appropriate executor and trustee and re-designate your estate to the appropriate beneficiaries, However if you passed away during your separation, your net-estate in the will may still be diluted as your estranged spouse could seek pay-out by Section 3 of the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act.
- Make or review your CPF Nomination
Why should you do it? There is no effect of divorce and separation on CPF Nomination. Unless you remarry, your previous nomination will not be automatically revoked. In addition, your CPF savings does not form part of your estate and are not coveree by a will. If there is no nomination made, it will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act which may not be what you want.
- Make or review your Life Insurance Nomination
Why should you do it? There is no effect of divorce and separation on Life Insurance Nomination. During separation, your estranged spouse can claim your life insurance proceeds as a proper claimant based on the Insurance Act (Section 61).
- Name a guardian and set up a trust if you have minor children
Why should you do it? If you leave a substantial estate to your minor children without naming a guardian, your ex-spouse could still lay hands on your estate as the parent of your child. In the event there is no will, the courts will also consider your ex-spouse as the appropriate administrator of your estate if the child is the rightful beneficiary under the Intestate Succession Act. Whether you remain a single parent or are considering a second marriage, you have to think about the guardianship of your children should you die prematurely. Setting up a trust and choosing the right trustee also ensure your beloved child receive the care and protection that you would like them to have.
- Make appropriate arrangements for properties that are under joint-tenancy
Why should you do it? Under the right of survivorship rule on joint tenancy, your estrangled spouse will own 100% of the property.
- Update your health care proxy and lasting power of attorney
Why should you do it? The health care proxy and LPA allow someone to make health care decisions for you and manage your financials in the event that you are mentally incapable. Unless you want your ex-spouse to be making these decisions, you may want to re-designate another person you trust to act as your proxy or donee.
2. Planning in case something happens to your ex-spouse:
- If you are receiving alimony and child maintenance allowance, hold a life policy on your ex-spouse.
Why should you do it? Should anything happen to your ex-spouse, it would mean the end of alimony and child maintenance allowance.
- If you have a child with your ex-spouse, make sure you remain contactable.
Why should you do it? Should anything happen to your ex-spouse, the courts may require the estate administrator of your ex-spouse to contact you to be the co-administrator as you are the rightful guardian of the child. The estate administration process may not be able to proceed further and the estate would be held back by the government.
Divorce proceedings may take months and there are various estate planning implications which the rules of distribution under the Intestate Succession Act do not take into account your unique situation. Do not wait until the final judgement of divorce is passed before making a new will or renominating your CPF and Life Insurance policies.