More assets of dead can be claimed

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that "it is only fair that such property can go to someone with an equitable or moral claim."

SINGAPORE - More assets, belonging to those who die without any legal heirs or next of kin, may soon be given to those who have a "moral claim" to the deceased's property.

This was made possible with changes to the Civil Law Act passed in Parliament yesterday.

The amendments mean that non-estate properties - such as Central Provident Fund savings where no nomination has been made, Edusave and Post- Secondary Education Fund monies, and monies placed in a Child Development Account - may be distributed.

Currently, the Law Minister has the discretion to transfer only assets of the deceased's estate, which refers to all of the property owned by the deceased.

Moral claimants are people whom the deceased may have been reasonably expected to leave his or her assets to because of a close relationship, or because they have cared extensively for them.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that "it is only fair that such property can go to someone with an equitable or moral claim, rather than the Government".

The changes do not affect the disposal of property according to Muslim law, which continues to fall under the Administration of Muslim Law Act.

The implementation date of the changes will be announced at a later time.

Nominated Member of Parliament Ramasamy Dhinakaran praised the amendments as being "timely" in the face of declining birth rates, as that would mean a future in which "many may grow old without next of kin or clear heirs to their properties".

However, he was worried about the authenticity of some claims that could emerge, and suggested imposing penalties to deter wrongful claims.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said there will be safeguards against false claims.

Any claim will be processed only six months after a person's death, to allow time for the entitled next of kin to step forward.

While a court order is not needed, claimants will be required to submit supporting documents, such as receipts of hospital or funeral expenses, as well as a statutory declaration or affidavit which must state the basis of the claim, Mr Shanmugam noted.

"Making a false statutory declaration or filing a false affidavit are serious offences. I think these are safeguards which will minimise the likelihood of false claims being made," he said.

Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef asked for more details on the methods of sale of the deceased's estate property and how the payment will be made.

Mr Shanmugam clarified that the minister's principal role is to decide who has a moral or equitable claim.

Administration of the estate is usually done by the claimant or other private parties, and it is for the administrator to decide on matters such as whether to sell the estate property, when to do so and how, as well as the manner in which it is distributed, he said.

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