In Singapore, all civil marriages as are governed by the Women’s Charter, while Muslim marriages are administered by the Registry of Muslim Marriages in accordance with Islamic Law.
From a utilitarian perspective, marriage can be seen as a legal status that confers benefits, as well as responsibilities of each spouse to each other.
From a policy perspective, Singapore is still very much traditional – recognising marriage as being the union of a man and a woman, and a family unit as being a legally married couple and their children.
There is a proportion of Singaporeans who – by choice or circumstance – do not fall into this traditional definition of a family unit. These could be individuals who wish to co-habitate but not get married, couples who separated but have not gone through the process of divorce, or Singaporeans in the LGBT community, who wish to spend their lives together as a married couple, but are not yet able to do so from a legal perspective.
While these Singaporeans do not enjoy the benefits and protections that traditional married couples do, with some proactive financial planning, they too can protect themselves and the ones they love, and building a life of their dreams together.
If you want to buy public housing from HDB, you typically need to either be legally married or buy together with a family member. Otherwise, you need to wait until you’re 35 and above to buy a BTO or resale flat together with your partner under the Joint Singles Scheme or buy it alone under the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme.
The Joint Singles Scheme allows 2 to 4 singles can jointly purchase a flat, provided the buyer and all the co-applicants are Singapore Citizens. If buyer/co-applicants are unmarried or divorced, they must be 35 years old or above. If they are widowed or orphaned, they need to be 21 years old or above. The usual conditions of buying a new HDB flat or resale flat still apply. These include rules regarding income ceiling, property ownership as well as Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) and SPR quota.
If you want to buy private property, things are more straightforward, where you apply to purchase and co-own a private property together. You will both need to be co-owners of the property if you wish to co-sign for a mortgage.
Read Also: Choosing The Best Home Loan In Singapore
Type of Co-Ownership Is Even More Important
For purchase of HDB between people who are not legal spouses, the type of co-ownership you choose is very important. This is because if the co-owners are spouses, the rules on intestacy protects the surviving spouse’s ownership of the HDB flat. However, with joint singles, things are not so simple. In short, a flat can be purchased under Joint Tenancy or Tenancy-In-Common.
For Joint Tenancy, co-owners are both entitled to the whole property, as if they were a single owner. It has an implicit right to survivorship, so when one party dies, their share of the property is automatically passed on to the surviving parties, irrespective of the existence of any will or “default” rules on intestacy.
Tenancy-In-Common contains no right of survivorship, so each co-owner has a separate share in the property. Thus, it is important to have a will to indicate how one’s share of the property should be distributed. For more details, you can read this detailed explanation about Joint Tenancy and Tenancy-In-Common.
As you know, Singaporeans enjoy one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with a multi-layered approach to help Singaporeans pay for their healthcare costs. Married couples enjoy benefits like being able to use your Medisave to help pay for your spouse’s medical bills, and enjoying complimentary coverage for your spouse on your employee or private insurance.
As such, each person in the relationship will need to ensure they have sufficient emergency savings and insurance coverage to take care of their own medical expenses. The first step of getting healthcare insurance in Singapore would be a private integrated Shield Plan, followed by other insurance coverage depending on your needs and financial situation.
The exception to this is nominating beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, since there are no restrictions on who you can nominate as beneficiaries of your life insurance payout when you are no longer around. The same goes for the other assets that make up your estate, which we will elaborate on in a later section.
When you’re hospitalised, family members and spouses are naturally kept updated and consulted by the medical staff. Confidentiality and medical ethics mean that healthcare professionals will not normally disclose your medical condition to non-family members.
If you are conscious as a patient, you should make your relationship to your partner clear to your medical team and express your intent that your partner be kept in the loop and be allowed to visit.
For a more legally-binding solution, and to take care of the case you’re not conscious or have the mental capacity to express your wishes, you might want to create a Lasting Power Of Attorney.
CPF And Retirement Planning
As CPF is a mandatory nationwide savings scheme, most Singaporeans have a significant chunk of monies in our CPF accounts. Making a CPF Nomination is always recommended to ensure your CPF monies are distributed in accordance with your wishes (and not by the default arrangement by law), and in the manner of your choosing – either in cash or as a transfer to your nominee’s CPF account.
You can’t transfer your CPF monies to another person’s CPF, unless they are related to you. But if you want to make contributions to help your partner in retirement, you can do so in cash – and you enjoy tax reliefs for doing so!
In Singapore, the Intestate Succession Act governs the distribution of a person’s assets when they pass on without a will. This means that legally married spouses and children are automatically taken care of. Since partners in non-traditional family units do not enjoy this safety net, they should do up a will, which will supersede the Intestate Succession Act.
Building A Life Together
While the law provides one level of recognition and protection for married couples, a marriage is built on love, trust, communication and the desire to build a life together. Speak to your partner, as well as your family, and share with them your plans for housing, healthcare and estate planning, so there will be no surprises or unhappiness when the time comes for your decisions to be carried out.