Transitional Guardians & Powers of Attorney

Ensuring Smooth Transitions: Guardianship and Powers of Attorney

Smooth transitions in life often hinge on the presence of well-considered guardianship and powers of attorney arrangements. These legal instruments provide crucial support in times of need, empowering trusted individuals to make important decisions on your behalf. Whether it involves medical choices, financial matters, or caring for dependents, the proper utilization of guardianship and powers of attorney ensures a seamless transition and peace of mind for both you and your loved ones.

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What Happens if You Die Without A Will?

If a person dies without a Will, they are said to have died “intestate”. In this occurrence the state probate court must decide how their assets are to be distributed. The probate court usually begins the process by appointing an administrator to oversee the estate of the deceased. This person will make a list of the deceased’s assets, pays off debts, and then distribute the remaining assets to the parties deemed to be the beneficiaries by the probate judge.

Asset distribution varies by state, typically involving the surviving spouse and deceased’s children. If both spouses pass away simultaneously, the court determines child custody, which may not align with your preferred choice.

What Does a Will Do?

A Will enables you to distribute your estate as you actually wish. It also allows you to appoint an Executor (personal representative).

This is the person who will get your Will, collect all your assets, pay any outstand bills and taxes and then distribute the balance of the estate to the named beneficiaries in line with your wishes in the Will.

A Will also allow you to appoint Guardians for any minor children.

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How Do I Fill Out (sign) a will?

A Will must be signed in front of witnesses (most states require two witnesses, while Virginia requires three), and if certain procedures are not followed the Will may be invalid. In many states, a will duly executed in front of witnesses, with all signatures notarized, is considered “self-proving” and is allowed for probate without witness testimony or other additional evidence.


A Will can also set up trusts to hold assets for minor children until they reach a certain age, usually stipulated in the Will.

Setting up a separate trust outside the Will can be a way to circumvent the probate process (which all Wills go through) so that heirs can receive their inheritance more smoothly and quickly. People who set up such trusts often have a pour-over Will as well to dispose of assets not included in the trust.

Trusts can be excellent solutions for some individuals and  families but have to follow certain rules, can be complicated and can be expensive to set up and maintain.

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A Particularly Expat Problem

For expat parents residing abroad, Executors and Guardians are often family members, such as parents, siblings, or close relatives. The challenge arises when these appointed individuals live outside Singapore, possibly in the US or elsewhere. In the unfortunate event of both parents passing away simultaneously, it may take weeks for the Executor and Guardian to be informed.

During this period, Singapore authorities assume temporary custody of minor children, placing them in foster homes until the Guardian designated in the Will arrives in Singapore to assume responsibility. Notably, domestic helpers in Singapore are not permitted to care for minor children in such circumstances, even if they have a strong bond with the children.

While not part of the Will, parents can draft a letter appointing “Transitional Guardians.” This letter grants friends living in Singapore the authority to care for the children until the official Guardian arrives in Singapore, offering a solution to this critical issue.

Powers of Attorney

When the breadwinner spouse faces a coma, it can lead to financial issues. Employment contracts may end, stopping income. Joint accounts help temporarily, but accessing individual or joint investments requires both signatures.

To get Power of Attorney, you must go through Singapore’s “Court of Protection,” taking about 3-4 months and significant legal expenses.

Establishing Power of Attorney for each other ensures someone can handle vital financial tasks if needed. Consider local rules; set it up in Singapore and relevant jurisdictions where you hold assets.

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