Written Answer by Senior Minister of State for Law, Ms Indranee Rajah, to Parliamentary Question on Legal Aid for Bereaved Families
15 Aug 2016 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Dr Tan Wu Meng (MP for Jurong GRC)
To ask the Minister for Law (a) what processes are put in place to inform and assist bereaved families on the process of administering a deceased’s estate; (b) how many legal aid applications have been granted deductions by the Director of Legal Aid over the past three years and of which, how many have been for bereaved families facing financial hardship; and (c) whether the Ministry has plans to review the disposable income and capital for legal aid means testing.
When a person passes away, the next-of-kin will have to apply to the Family Justice Courts to obtain the necessary documents that authorise specific persons to undertake the administration of the deceased’s estate. The next-of-kin may check the Courts’ website for an information guide, or contact the Courts for any queries relating to the filing of Probate.
If the estate value does not exceed $50,000, the next-of-kin can apply to the Public Trustee to administer the estate, subject to certain criteria: for instance, that there are no conflicting claims to the estate and that the estate does not have any outstanding debts. For estates of higher value, the next-of-kin will have to engage a lawyer to assist in the estate administration, and the costs of doing so can be recovered from the estate. Persons of limited means may also approach the Legal Aid Bureau or legal clinics in the community for legal advice.
The Legal Aid Bureau (LAB) receives around 10,000 applications per year, of which around 7% are probate, letters of administration and other estate cases (collectively referred to as ‘Estate Cases’). Between FY2013 and FY2015, LAB received a total of 1940 applications for Estate Cases. Of these, 1566 applications, or about 80% of applications, qualified for legal aid. But not all of them followed through.
To qualify for legal aid in civil matters, under the Legal Aid and Advice Act, applicants will have to satisfy a means test. The means test is satisfied where the applicant’s disposable income is not more than $10,000 per year, and he or she has not more than $10,000 of disposable capital. Contributions to the Central Provident Fund, amounts for dependents’ living expenses and the applicant’s HDB flat are automatically deducted from the calculation of disposal income and disposable capital.
In addition, further deductibles can be applied in certain special circumstances, such as where the applicant is suffering from sudden physical or mental disability which permanently and severely restricts the applicant’s capacity to earn an income. However, there is no special category for bereaved families, because legal aid is granted based on the applicant’s financial status.
In 2013, the Act was amended to allow approximately 25% of Singapore citizens and permanent residents to qualify for legal aid under the means test, up from 17% previously. The Director of Legal Aid was also given discretion, in family proceedings which involve children or protection orders, to ensure that the most vulnerable persons in a family dispute are eligible for legal aid.
Last updated on 16 Aug 2016