Comparison of Inheritance Laws in Singapore and Malaysia

As Commonwealth countries, Singapore’s legal systems are similar to that of Malaysia, both largely based on the English legal system. For Singapore and Malaysia, there is an additional inheritance system of Faraid based on the Quran that is exclusively applicable to Islamic estates. It is only possible to deal with the non-muslim estates here. 


Where the deceased has left behind a will, the execution of the will is the same in both countries, with the named executor applying to the local courts for a grant of probate. It is advisable to have a will each to cover assets in Singapore and Malaysia respectively so that the beneficiaries do not need to wait for the legal procedure in one country to be concluded before assets in the other country can be liquidated upon.  


However, if the deceased did not leave behind a will, it shall be distributed according to the respective governing legislations in each country; namely the Distribution Act in Malaysia, and the Intestate Succession Act in Singapore. The appointed administrator will have to apply to court for a grant of letter of administration (“L.A”). Choosing among themselves who is to be the administrator to be appointed can be a difficult decision for some families who may have lived in more than one country. Furthermore, factoring in second or third marriages or common law partnerships resulting in children from those previous marriages or partnerships, may face difficulties in getting a uniformed decision as to who among the heirs is to take the reins of leading the “family” to apply for the grant of L.A.


In an intestacy situation, the order of priority for distribution is the same in both countries: spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents and so forth. Priority is always given to the deceased’s spouse, children, and parents.


Where the deceased leaves behind multiple next-of-kin, the shares that they will be entitled to will vary according to the succession laws. For instance, where the deceased dies leaving behind a spouse and children but no parents, in Malaysia, the spouse would be entitled to one-third of the estate and the children entitled to the remaining two-thirds of the estate. In Singapore, the spouse and children will be entitled to half of the estate each.


Although both legal systems have successions laws in pari materia, interpretation of such laws are subject to the courts of the land. Timeframe to execute on a will or on an intestate estate also differs.  It is practically wiser to have individual wills to cover each country so as not to risk one country’s execution tying down the other.  It is simpler and more cost-effective to do so.


  • How to draw up Wills to cover your Singaporean or Malaysian assets
  • Creating Wills / Legal Instruments which are in compliance with local legislation
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About the author

Ms. Kim Khoo

P.J.K, C.L.P., LL.B (Hons) London
Principal Legal Consultant