Housing and Development Board flats (HDB) in Singapore are classified as public housing available to Singaporean citizens and permanent residents.
Owners and co-owners of flats can pass on their legal share after death in the same way that title to non-HDB property can pass.
Whilst it’s relevant when a flat owner dies, whether they left a will, or died without a will (called intestacy), the first step to establishing succession is to understand how the flat was co-owned and whether the owners were joint tenants or tenants in common.
Sole ownership of HDB property
Upon the death of a sole owner of HDB Property, their entitlement passes in line with the provisions of their will or via the laws of intestacy according to the Intestate Succession Act (ISA) if there is no will.
Owning HDB property with other people
When there is more than one property owner, there also must be a formal legal arrangement about how that ownership is shared.
This makes it easier to manage different scenarios, such as one co-owner wishing to sell their share or the death of one of the co-owners.
If a property is held in a joint tenancy arrangement, the deceased’s share or interest in the flat will be passed to the remaining owner or owners on their death.
Tenants in common
If an HDB flat is co-owned based on a tenancy in common, then the deceased’s share will be allocated in line with the terms of their will. The share is passed down via a strictly defined list under the Intestate Succession Act (ISA) if they haven’t written a will.
What happens after the death of a joint tenant?
The premise is that the deceased’s share in the flat will pass to the remaining owners if they are eligible. The remaining owners must be Singaporean citizens or permanent residents and 21 years or older to inherit.
The owners must lodge a Notice of Death of their co-owner with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). With an HDB flat, it’s possible to ask the HDB to help prepare the documents, or the owners can approach the SLA directly themselves.
Involving the HDB
The HDB will verify the joint owners, and this is usually done by producing identity cards at the HDB branch that manages the flat. The owners will also need to produce the original death certificate of the deceased and a duplicate lease if relevant.
There will be fees for registering documents and conveyancing.
Lodging the Notice of Death directly with the SLA
This process requires completing a lodgement form submitted with several other vital documents. These include:
- The Notice of Death, which requires witnessing by someone aged at least 21 years and clearly identified on the form.
- The death certificate.
- A true certified copy of the grant of probate or letters of administration if the deceased passed away without making a will.
- Title documents for the property or a duplicate lease.
- A Production Form in line with part 3 Item 19 of the Consolidated Practice Circulars 2003.
What Happens after the death of a tenant in common?
If the deceased has left a will, then the executors should apply for a grant of probate or appoint a solicitor to do that for them. Once they have the grant, the deceased’s interest in the flat is distributed in line with the provisions in their will.
If the deceased died intestate, their family should apply for a grant of letters of administration or appoint a legal professional to do this. The share of the HDB flat will pass to whoever is named in the line of succession contained in the legislation.
Registering a legal right
Once the administrator or executor is appointed, they must register their legal right at the appropriate HDB branch. As part of this process, they are required to evidence the following documents:
- The original grant of probate or grant of letters of administration with the statement for grant of letters of administration.
- A certified copy of the death certificate.
- Duplicate lease.
An administrator or executor must also be able to show their identity card to prove their status.
Transfer of ownership
The interest in the flat is transferred to the beneficiaries as named in the deceased’s will or in line with the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act. The new owner of this share must be eligible in line with HDB policies, which means at least 21 years old and either holding Singaporean citizenship or permanent residency.
Tenants in common and intestacy – a potentially toxic mix
If ownership in a property is held on the basis of a tenancy in common, then the owners’ share does not automatically pass to a surviving spouse. If the co-owner has not written a will, there can be some surprising outcomes when the provisions of the ISA are applied. The interest in the property will pass as follows:
- Spouse and children
- Children if no surviving spouse
- Spouse and parents, if no children
- Parents if no surviving spouse or children
- Aunts and uncles
The intestacy rules only recognise a spouse as a person legally married to the deceased. The law in Singapore does not recognise cohabitation or what is sometimes termed ‘de facto’ relationships. De facto means that the relationship is present in fact but not necessarily in law (‘de jure’).
Cohabitation has no legal status in Singapore, and the absence of a cohabiting partner is very evident from the list of succession in the ISA. This means that a person who has been sharing an HDB flat with their partner based on a tenancy in common, and who has not made a will, could find their partner literally left out in the cold.
People make assumptions about succession under the intestacy rules and attribute status to their de facto relationship, which is simply not present in the law. If you hold a share of a flat as a tenant in common with someone you are not married to, writing a will ensures your share is passed onto them if you predecease.
An HDB flat post inheritance
New co-owners or owners of an HDB flat may inherit under the terms of a will or via the intestacy rules. In either scenario, they must satisfy the eligibility criteria of the HDB, which is either permanent residency or Singaporean citizenship.
If a child has inherited an HDB flat from their deceased parent, there are conditions relating to citizenship, and it’s also relevant if a beneficiary already owns another private property.
The HDB website sets out all the current eligibility conditions.
Religion and HDB inheritance
Syariah Law governs inheritance for Muslim residents of Singapore, but the issue of whether there is a will or no valid will is still just as relevant.
If a Muslim co-owner of an HDB flat dies without leaving a will, then Syariah Law Faraid governs how their share of the flat is dealt with.
If a Muslim co-owner has left a will with provision for their share of an HDB flat, only one-third of the property can pass to a beneficiary via this route. The Syariah Court distributes the remaining two-thirds according to the principles of Faraid.
Final thoughts on HDB Inheritance
Writing a will is the best way to ensure your share or sole ownership of an HDB flat passes to the right person, thus avoiding family disputes. A legal professional can also advise whether your choice of beneficiary will have any problems satisfying the HDB eligibility criteria.
It’s essential the situation is clear regarding any mortgage payments, as the person responsible for these may not be the flat owner if there is an informal arrangement in place.
Frequently asked questions
Can I change the basis on which I co-own an HDB flat?
It may not be possible to change the basis on which a flat is co-owned if a mortgage company is involved and/or the other owners don’t agree.
If you’re worried about what will happen to your share of the flat when you die, writing a will ensures that the benefit goes to the person you want.
What happens in cases of sole ownership?
In cases of sole ownership of an HDB flat, the entitlement passes in accordance with the provisions set out in the deceased’s will.
If there is no will, the flat is sold, and the spouse and any children share the proceeds. The surviving spouse receives 50%, and the remaining half is divided equally amongst the number of children.
What happens if the deceased is single with no surviving family?
If the deceased is single with no surviving family and they have not made a will, then the Singaporean government receives the flat.