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Not all assets immediately go to a person’s beneficiaries upon a person’s death, in cases where there are assets located in foreign countries, a person’s country of domicile dictates how these assets will be distributed. Let’s take an in-depth look at the rules that come into play when a person’s country of domicile involved.

What is the Meaning of “Country of Domicile”?

The terms country of domicile or domicile sound is confusing at first but in fact it pretty easy and straightforward. A person’s country of domicile refers to the place where he or she intends or chooses to make permanent residence, the place he or she calls as his or her ultimate home. He or she returns to this place a lot; it is where he or she resides in. A person of Thai nationality may be born Thai but choose to become a Singaporean citizen, so, even if he is Thai by birth but he decided to stay and live in Singapore. He may occasionally return to Thailand for family vacations, but his permanent address is in Singapore.

In the law of probate and administration, the country of domicile determines how a person will make a will, e.g. his right to do so, and how his estate will be distributed to his beneficiaries. The country of domicile, therefore, determines the place where the primary probate process is obtained by his personal representatives or administrators in relation to the deceased’s estate, as well as their right to distribute his properties. The filing of the grant of probate or the letters of administration is done in the court of the country of domicile.

Here are some of the factors that determine a person’s domicile:

  • His or her nationality and the place of residence – is he or she a Singaporean national or a foreigner living in the country? Did he or she chose Singapore as the place of residence or is he or she just spending occasional vacations here?
  • Whether he or she has bought any property in the country – did he or she buy a house here? Does he or she have more than one property in Singapore, if so what are these properties?
  • Is their family living with them – if he is a Korean national residing in Singapore, does he have his immediate family with him in the country? Factors like he lives in the country alone but his wife and kids are in Seoul provides a stark contrast making the court question if Singapore really is his country of domicile.
  • The length of time spent living in the country – how long has he been staying in Singapore? Has he been here since he was born or did he move here from overseas?

A person may only have one domicile at any time.

Distribution of Movable and Immovable Property

Movable property is defined as the assets owned by a person that can be moved from one place to another at any given time. It can also be referred to as the personal property of the deceased. It can be tangible or intangible. Tangible movable property can be jewellery, clothing, furniture, art while an intangible property is those which cannot be touched or felt, like stocks or dividends.

The movable property of a foreigner living in Singapore (non-domiciled)  who dies intestate would be regulated by the law of the country where is domiciled in. So, if a Thai national working in Singapore dies and his country of domicile is Thailand, then is moveable properties will be dealt with according to Thailand’s laws.

Immovable property, on the other hand, refers to any property that cannot be moved about, examples are real estate and corporations. The law states that immovable property will be dealt with according to the laws of the country where it is located in. A house owned by a foreigner situated in Singapore will be governed by the country’s law. A condo in London owned by a Singaporean citizen, on the other hand, will be under the laws of the United Kingdom.

It is important for Singaporeans to note that overseas properties will have to pass through estate duty if they are located in countries that have not abolished inheritance tax. All persons dying intestate will have their properties distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act.

A person’s country of domicile plays a vital role in distributing assets owned by the deceased, and people dying intestate will find that different countries have varied ways of dealing with properties according to their laws. Singaporeans and foreign nationals alike should be aware of such changes, and the biggest method to ensure a smooth succession is through an estate plan made with a trustworthy company.

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