Parliament: Amendments to Public Trustee Act to ensure better use of state resources

SINGAPORE - The processes leading up to the appointment of the Public Trustee as an ordinary trustee will be amended to better ensure that state resources are deployed only in cases of public interest.

This was one of three key features in the Public Trustee (Amendment) Bill 2014 that was passed on Monday.

The Public Trustee's main role is as an administrator of last resort for estates of deceased individuals which do not exceed $50,000 in value. The Public Trustee can also be appointed as an ordinary trustee in cases where there is "a clear public interest", or as a litigation representative of minors in suits relating to trusts or the administration of a deceased person's estate.

The Public Trustee manages about 8,000 estates each year. But "there have been cases where the Public Trustee was appointed even though the parties were well able to afford the engagement of a private trustee," said Senior Minister of State for Law, Ms Indranee Rajah, addressing Parliament on Monday.

This is because the current Public Trustee Act does not require the Public Trustee's views or written consent to be sought or obtained before being appointed, noted Ms Rajah.

But that will change when the amendments take effect.

"These changes would allow the Public Trustee to give written consent and input prior to accepting various appointments," said commercial litigator Gregory Vijayendran.

"This will ensure that state resources are deployed for public administration of estates and trusts only when there is a public interest element. It would be inappropriate for taxpayers' money to be used for the discharge of a statutory duty where the interests are only private in nature. With small estates, it is more economical for them to be administered by the Public Trustee."

Another key feature of the amendments is the introduction of a system for paying interest to the estates governed under the Act, allowing for the pooling of trust monies for investment purposes.

The name and composition of the Public Trustee Investment Board will also see changes which enable the Minister for Law to appoint "suitably qualified persons from the private sector" to help oversee the investment of monies in the common fund.