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In late 2017, there was a spate of news involving Singaporeans who perished in car accidents locally and abroad. The victims included a  young couple on holiday in New Zealand who were planning for their first child; a mother of two young boys who was hit by a public bus on her way to work; a SAF scholar and his parents who were involved in a fatal car crash that left a younger sister – a minor – as the sole survivor. There were also similar tragic incidents in Singapore and in Johor Bahru.

At the law firm, we have represented clients in various types of custody battles. One that remains fresh in my mind involved a very young child whose parents perished in a fatal car accident. No testamentary guardian was appointed, leaving the paternal and maternal grandparents embroiled in a protracted and bitter custody battle against each other to have themselves appointed by the court as the legal guardians. The court eventually awarded shared custody to both sets of grandparents, with access rights to be revisited in the future when the child turns 12.

Were there any winners? In such a situation, the child involved is always the one majorly affected.


As a married couple looking forward to start your own family, it is a good time to get your legal papers in order. It is in the best interest of your child to have a set of testamentary guardians appointed in advance to safeguard against any potential disputes over who should be the appropriate guardians in an unexpected event involving both sets of parents.

A testamentary guardian is a person appointed by the father or mother of the child, via a will, to be accorded the same legal rights and responsibilities as that of a parent, upon the death one or both parents. While the primary responsibility of raising a child, including taking care of his or her upbringing and welfare, is vested in the parents, the parents need to plan for “substitute parents” in the unlikely event that they are unable to fulfil their duties.

In my line of work, I have observed some common difficulties in choosing an appropriate guardian. Many parents put off making a will because they cannot decide on a guardian, but I hope the following tips will be helpful.

  1. Is it ok to choose my parents or my in-laws who are older than me?

Yes, this is perfectly fine. If the parents or in-laws are generally healthy and relatively young, they can be a good short to mid-term solution (i.e. for the next 5 to 10 years). Your will can be amended later to reflect any changes in your family circumstances (e.g. friends who may be able to step into the role of guardians, or other kith or kin whom your child expressly prefers).

  1. What if my first choice is not good with managing finances?

Then appoint someone (normally a trustee) in your will to manage the finances, and leave the guardian to focus on ensuring your child is cared for and as happy and loved as possible.

  1. My first choice is currently not in Singapore

There is no requirement that the guardian need to live in the same place or jurisdiction where you are, but an out-of-state guardian may slightly complicate things. It may be prudent to put in place a formal letter or a statutory declaration appointing a temporary guardian who can stand in the gap and take care of the child until the permanent guardian arrives. This will also be relevant if you are posted to a job overseas and bringing your family along. You will require someone to take care of your children in case of any unfortunate event involving you and your spouse, until the permanent guardian arrives from Singapore.


In making your will, choosing a guardian for your children may be one of the most difficult decisions you will need to make, but it is necessary to ensure a peace of mind and to safeguard the future of your child. A consultation with a specialist family and inheritance planning lawyer can help you understand the gaps in your estate planning and wealth preservation coverage for your family.

When results matter, choose a specialist.





Shen Kiat TAN is an Associate within the Firm’s Private Client Practice Group, dealing in Wills, Trusts, Deputyship and Probate. He is concurrently the Legal Advisor to FortisWills and FortisCare, subsidiaries of Fortis Life Group dealing with private wealth management, advance care and estate planning issues. He obtained LL.B (Hons) 2nd Upper Honours from the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, and was awarded the top-scorer in his year for the final year thesis project on the Arab Spring. Shen Kiat also has a first degree in Political Science and a Minor in Religious Studies from the National University of Singapore.

Read more about him.

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