BATTLE OVER LATE TYCOON’S $7M ESTATE

BATTLE OVER LATE TYCOON’S $7M ESTATE

 

Judge: Will is absurd, unusual

 

·  Man appoints son as trustee in will

 

·  Leaves entire estate on ‘trust to be distributed’ to same son

 

·  Family sue son, who was found not ‘entirely truthful’ by court

 

A BUSINESSMAN’ s strange will, over which his family is feuding, has raised the eyebrows of judges in Singapore’s highest court.

 

By Karen Wong

 

 

16 May 2008

 

A BUSINESSMAN’ s strange will, over which his family is feuding, has raised the eyebrows of judges in Singapore’s highest court.

 

Judge of Appeal V K Rajah said of the late Mr Ng Teow Yhee’s last testament: ‘In my years in (law) practice, I have never seen a will of this sort.

 

‘It is a highly unusual will where the beneficiary is also the sole trustee.’

 

Later on in the hearing, he again commented: ‘It has a highly unusual form. There are aspects of it that border on the ridiculous. How can someone be the trustee for himself? It’s absurd!’

 

Mr Ng had built up his fortune in the stevedoring and shipping business.

 

He died in April 2001 at the age of80.

 

And his will, made on 27 Nov 2000, left everything to his ‘favourite’ son, Mr Sebastian Ng Hock Guan, 51.

 

This has led to a bitter division in the family, with the late Mr Ng’s wife, Madam Low Ah Cheow, 82, two of her eight children and two grandchildren in one camp. They sued Mr Sebastian Ng for a share of the estate.

 

They argued that Mr Sebastian Ng was supposed to hold part of the money given to him by the late Mr Ng in ‘secret trust’ for them.

 

His estate, which includes an East Coast bungalow on Wiltshire Road, and shares in his company, is estimated to be worth more than $7 million.

 

35-DAY TRIAL

 

After a 35-day trial in the High Court last year, Justice Woo Bih Li said Mr Sebastian Ng had not been ‘entirely truthful’, but that the other side’s evidence was also fraught with inconsistencies and was unreliable.

 

He ruled that Mr Ng had given his entire estate to his son Sebastian, in the expectation that he would do right by his family.

 

Mr Sebastian Ng, he said, would have to be dictated by his conscience, though there was no legal obligation.

 

Madam Low’s group, who subsequently changed lawyers, appealed against the decision.

 

Yesterday, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong and Judges of Appeal V K Rajah and Andrew Phang expressed their doubts over the way the will was worded, and the lack of witnesses to how it had been interpreted by the lawyer to the Hokkien-speaking Mr Ng before he put his thumbprint on it.

 

The questionable part of the will was that Mr Sebastian Ng would hold ‘on trust’ the late Mr Ng’s residuary estate (after paying all debts and expenses), to be distributed to himself.

 

Of this, Justice Rajah said: ‘You don’t distribute to one person. If it’s going to one person, why use the word distribute?’

 

CJ Chan added: ‘In a normal will, when you want to give everything to a beneficiary, you simply appoint an executor, give everything to (the beneficiary) absolutely.

 

‘There’s nothing to hold on trust.’

 

The judges also questioned how the will had been interpreted to the late Mr Ng.

 

Justice Rajah said: ‘What troubles me is that there’s no line-by-line interpretation (by lawyer Alan Lee to Mr Ng).’

 

As it also turned out, Mr Lee has been handling matters for Mr Sebastian Ng and his wife for a long time.

 

CJ Chan pointed out about the will: ‘The draft was never produced, the associate who drafted it never gave evidence. We don’t know what was interpreted. ‘

 

To which, Mr Sebastian Ng’s lawyer, Mr Ling Tien Wah, replied that this was because the associate had suffered a stroke and gone into a coma, so could not be called as a witness.

 

Justice Phang also noted that Mr Ng leaving everything to his son Sebastian, thus cutting the rest of his family off, would result in a ‘disconnect’ with the way he treated them when he was alive.

 

They were drawing salaries from the company’s subsidiary and a couple of them even lived with him in the same house.

 

Justice Rajah said the judges had many unresolved questions about the case, in which ‘there are no angels’.

 

CJ Chan said: ‘There are many question marks, can you assist us?’

 

The judges also pointed out to the lawyer for Madam Low’s camp, Mr Lim Joo Toon, to consider the possibility of a ‘failed trust’ and asked him to address that point.

 

SPLIT EQUALLY

 

A ‘failed trust’ would mean that the intestate succession law will kick in, which could result in half the money going to Madam Low, with the remainder split equally among the late Mr Ng’s eight children.

 

In which case, Mr Sebastian Ng might end up worse off.

 

That’s one way in which the appeal court may decide, said Justice Rajah.

 

But, said CJ Chan: ‘This case need not necessarily be decided on an all or nothing basis.’

 

Justice Rajah told Mr Ling: ‘Do you get what we are saying? That your client may be better off trying to resolve this amicably.’

 

He added: ‘We were trying to be delicate. Let me be more direct.

 

‘Now that everything is so stark, it could be all or nothing.’

 

Mr Ling then asked the court to adjourn the case, so that he could speak to his clients and the lawyers for the other side on how to proceed.

 

When The New Paper checked last night, the parties had yet to settle the case.

 

Source: The New Paper

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