1989: Sole heir; 1996: Cut out of millions

1989: Sole heir; 1996: Cut out of millions 

Two sisters’ legal battle over mum’s contrasting wills splits siblings

 

A FIGHT in court between two sisters over the contrasting wills made by their late mother has split the family.

Ophthalmologist Caroline Chee Ka Lin, 47, the youngest of six siblings, says a 1996 will, which cuts her out of the inheritance, is invalid.

 

She wants the High Court to uphold the 1989 one which practically made her the sole heir of her mother’s estate.

 

But her sister Muriel Chee Mu Lin, 53, wants the court to declare the 1996 will as the true and last will of their mother, Madam Goh Hun Keong.

 

After Madam Goh’s death in 2004, Caroline started the legal process to settle the estate under the 1989 will, but was stopped from doing so by the legally-trained Muriel.

 

Last year, the court ordered Muriel to file the current suit to determine the validity of the 1996 will. The hearing opened yesterday.

 

Madam Goh, born in 1921, was an English teacher. But she quit teaching to invest in real estate shortly after marrying Dr Chee Siew Oon in 1945. The couple had seven children, among whom six are still alive.

 

At the time of her death, the matriarch owned several properties, the main one being a Holland Road house now worth about $13 million.

 

In 1995, she transferred a half-share in the house to Caroline and her husband at a ‘discounted’ price.

 

She made the 1989 will about a month after Dr Chee was incapacitated by a stroke. Apart from providing for his needs and the grandchildren’s education and giving $150,000 to one son, she left the rest of her estate to Caroline.

 

Seven years later, she made another will, this time giving Caroline an option to buy her half-share of the house. This will ordered that the sales proceeds, with the rest of her estate, be shared equally among Caroline’s five siblings.

 

The 1996 will cut Caroline out of the inheritance; Muriel, from getting nothing under the 1989 will, was now to get a one-fifth share of her mother’s assets.

 

Caroline is calling four doctors to testify that her mother was not mentally capable in 1996 of making the will, which she will claim was made apparently under Muriel’s influence.

 

Muriel is disputing the allegations.

 

The line has been drawn among the siblings: One brother will bat for Muriel, two brothers and a sister for Caroline.

 

Caroline’s lawyer Giam Chin Toon noted in his opening statement that the trio, who get nothing from the 1989 will, will testify against their interests.

 

Muriel’s lawyer Molly Lim argued that even with the later will, Caroline will get a larger share of the assets than her siblings, who each stand to inherit less than $2.5 million.

 

She noted that half the house was transferred to Caroline for $2.5 million. With the current value of the half-share at $6.5 million, she stands to gain $4 million from its sale.

 

Source: Straits Times

Flat sale may not help speed up bankruptcy discharge

Flat sale may not help speed up bankruptcy discharge

 

Q My brother, 58, was declared a bankrupt three years ago because of a credit card debt of about $90,000.

He and his wife own a five-room Housing Board flat and they have to pay $800 every month to service the HDB loan. But he is unable to do so owing to various financial reasons.

 

He plans to downgrade to a four-room flat and use a portion of the sale proceeds to reduce his debt and get a discharge from bankruptcy from the Official Assignee (OA).

 

He has worked out that after the sale of the flat, he can pay the OA about $20,000. However, the OA said he cannot be granted a discharge based on this figure.

 

My brother cannot decide if he should sell the flat. There appears to be no point in doing so because even if he pays $20,000 to the OA, he will still remain a bankrupt.

 

I understand that if a bankrupt owes less than $500,000, he can write to the OA after three years to request a discharge. Is this true?

 

As the amount he owes is not huge and there is no way for him to raise the cash other than to sell his flat and downgrade to a smaller unit, is this method the only way to get him out of bankruptcy?

 

How can the OA help him? Are there any Central Provident Fund or HDB restrictions if he disposes of his flat and buys another?

 

 

A A discharge from bankruptcy may be done in two ways, either by an application to a court or by a certificate of the OA.

 

Your brother, the OA or any person with an interest may make an application to a court, which may grant an absolute or a conditional discharge.

 

If your brother is granted an absolute discharge, he will be free from any further obligations.

 

For a conditional discharge, the court may attach conditions such as requiring him to make contributions from his post-discharge income.

 

The court will take into account factors such as your brother’s age, the cause of bankruptcy, why he incurred the debts, the number of creditors involved and the value of his assets compared against that of his liabilities.

 

For a discharge through a certificate of the OA, the latter generally reviews all cases in which there is a bankruptcy of at least three years and the debts are less than $500,000.

 

The OA also takes into account similar factors as reviewed by a court and also looks at the bankrupt’s conduct and level of cooperation. The discharge is not automatic.

 

In both situations, the creditors have to be notified and they are entitled to object. If the OA rejects the objections, the creditors can go to a court for an order prohibiting the OA from granting the certificate.

 

As both situations involve the exercise of discretion, the interests of the bankrupt are balanced against those of the creditors, the public and commercial morality or common honesty.

 

An HDB flat is protected as it is not available for distribution to a bankrupt’s creditors, and it has been argued the same protection should apply to sales proceeds.

 

However, in practice, the OA has always intervened and taken the bankrupt’s share of the proceeds for distribution.

 

For the purchase of an HDB flat, following an arrangement between the OA and the HDB, there may be no need to apply for the OA’s consent to buy a four-room or smaller flat.

 

Your brother should work and cooperate with the OA if he wishes to be discharged. This is because the OA keeps a fair balance between the interests of the creditors, which is to be repaid a reasonable sum on the one hand, and the eagerness of a bankrupt to be discharged on the other.

 

Amolat Singh

Lawyer

Amolat & Partners

 

Advice provided in this column is not meant as a substitute for comprehensive professional advice.

 

Source: Straits Times

Illegal storey in house: Buyers lose case

Illegal storey in house: Buyers lose case 

Sellers had built extra storey, but the BCA had not issued any notice on the unauthorised addition at the time of sale

 

A YOUNG couple who put down a deposit on what they thought was a 1-1/2-storey dream house now feel like the transaction is turning into a nightmare.

While paperwork for the sale was being done, Mr Mervyn Lim We-Jin and his wife, Ms Jessie Tham Yi Min, found out that the extra storey in the house was an unauthorised structure.

 

They went back to the sellers to push them to put it right and pay for the alterations.

 

The sale of the house in Lorong 105 Changi Road never went through.

 

As the dispute could not be resolved, it was taken to the High Court, which on Wednesday threw out the couple’s application for damages with costs.

 

Mr Lim and Ms Tham now have a month to decide between abandoning the purchase – which means they lose the 5 per cent deposit on the $1.18 million property – and seeing the sale through and paying interest for the delayed completion.

 

The sellers – civil servants Jason Teo Shen Yuan and Chan Sue Li – had, through their agent, put out an advertisement for the sale of the house last November.

 

Their lawyer, Ms Foo Soon Yien from Harry Elias Partnership, argued that at the time of the sale and purchase contract, there was no notice or order from the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) about the unauthorised addition.

 

Even if there had been one, it would have been irrelevant as it was, at best, a potential liability, said Ms Foo.

 

She noted that the BCA’s reply to the buyers’ lawyers about the status of the structure came only after the contract of sale and purchase.

 

In a somewhat similar case in 1993, which Ms Foo also handled, the Court of Appeal held that unauthorised works did not in themselves constitute defects in title as long as the BCA had not issued a notice.

 

Ms Foo said that Mr Lim and Ms Tham’s claims for her clients to rectify the unauthorised works and for compensation were thus misconceived, as was their claim that the unauthorised structures were an encumbrance.

 

Also, she argued that the plaintiffs had not inserted a special clause to cancel the contract if any unauthorised structure was found. Such a clause would have protected them.

 

Counsel submitted that once the option was exercised, the risk of the property passed to the buyer.

 

The buyers were represented by Mr Khoo Boo Jin.

 

Source: Straits Times

Brunei prince fights to keep Nassim mansion

Brunei prince fights to keep Nassim mansion 

Worth at least $120m, it was used by the prince up to year 2000

 

THE fight between Brunei’s national investment firm and the sultan’s brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, has reached Singapore’s courts.

The prize in this legal battle: the prince’s now-unoccupied Nassim Road mansion, worth at least $120 million and believed to have housed valuable artworks and other assets.

 

The prince, the younger brother of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, is already mired in tussles with the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) over his assets elsewhere, including those in London and New York.

 

The BIA, which the sultan oversees, is the main agency holding and managing the Brunei government’s General Reserve Fund and its external assets.

 

In the fight for the Nassim Road property, the BIA is represented here by Senior Counsel Vinodh Coomaraswamy.

 

According to court documents filed in the Supreme Court, the BIA is seeking a court order to compel the 53-year-old prince to hand over the title to the premises.

 

The Registrar of Titles here requires a Singapore court order for the BIA to be registered as the legal owner of the mansion.

 

Prince Jefri, defended here by lawyer George Pereira, is contesting the application.

 

A hearing has been fixed for October.

 

The plush Nassim Road premises, named Arwaa mansion, were understood to have been used by Prince Jefri up to the year 2000.

 

The house, having been developed as a single structure from two back-to-back properties with different addresses, has entrances on two roads.

 

Although unoccupied, it is guarded round the clock by private security staff; cleaners are also there regularly.

 

In a bid to keep it in his possession, Prince Jefri is expected to argue, among other things, that Arwaa mansion was excluded, and therefore separate, from matters heard before the Brunei courts as part of the enforcement proceedings started there against him in 2004.

 

The prince, who left Brunei that year and now lives in France, is expected to ask the courts here to return Arwaa mansion to him.

 

His assets in London are still the subject of court enforcement.

 

Over in New York, a court ordered in March that he hand over ownership of the plush New York Palace hotel in Manhattan to the Brunei government.

 

It has been reported, however, that the court has barred its sale because the prince is disputing the order for a chance at ownership.

 

The legal battle

 

BILLIONS of dollars are alleged to have gone missing while Prince Jefri Bolkiah was Brunei’s finance minister.

 

He signed an agreement out-of-court with Brunei’s government in May 2000 to hand over several of his properties and valuables from around the world, but apparently failed to comply fully with the terms.

 

Legal action began against him in Brunei in 2004, and ended last year at London’s Privy Council, the oil-rich kingdom’s highest court of appeal, which ruled that he had to comply with the deal.

 

Earlier this month, the London court issued an arrest warrant against him for not showing up to answer charges that he had violated a court order to hand over £3 billion (S$8 billion) to the Brunei government.

 

Source: Straits Times

Gillman en bloc sale to proceed

Gillman en bloc sale to proceed

Judge says minority owners did not provide adequate reasons to stop sale

 

THE High Court has dismissed an appeal by minority owners of Gillman Heights Condominium to stop its en bloc sale.

 

This means that the $548 million sale of the development to CapitaLand, Hotel Properties and two private funds is set to go through.

 

Justice Choo Han Teck, in his judgment yesterday, said that he was ‘satisfied’ that the appeal by the minority owners ‘must fail’, as they did not provide adequate reasons as to why he should stop the sale.

 

The Strata Titles Board (STB) had approved the collective sale of the 607-unit, 99-year leasehold estate late last year. But a group of minority owners, represented by Senior Counsel Michael Hwang, had appealed that decision.

 

They argued that the STB had erred in approving the sale. They said that collective sale rules do not apply to Gillman Heights, which is an former HUDC estate. They also argued that insufficient notices were put up informing owners of the proposed sale and that the collective sale agreement – signed by the consenting owners – was not validly extended before the deal was brokered with the CapitaLand consortium.

 

Justice Choo ruled yesterday that the law does not mean to treat privatised HUDC estates differently from other private strata developments with a management corporation. He said that a privatised HUDC estate can participate in the benefits of an en bloc sale if the requisite conditions are met. He also agreed with the STB’s ruling that sufficient notices had been posted and that the collective sale agreement had been validly extended.

 

The minorities had also argued that the sale was done in bad faith. They said that the National University of Singapore (NUS), which owns a sizeable chunk of Gillman Heights and had agreed to the en bloc sale, has a 15 per cent stake in Ankerite, the entity that purchased Gillman Heights.

 

Justice Choo noted yesterday that NUS’s relationship with the buyer – which came to light after the STB approval – was not presented before the STB at the relevant time. ‘A court deliberates only on the basis of the evidence before it,’ he said. He said that it was strictly up to the STB to judge if there was an act of bad faith by reason of the relationship between NUS and Ankerite – but that he was not persuaded that the board should hear the issue again.

 

Justice Choo also agreed with the STB that there was no bad faith regarding the sale price of Gillman Heights, as it was $20 million above the reserve price.

 

The minorities had also argued that one of the STB board members, Michael Ng of Savills (Singapore), was a real estate valuation professional who had worked on projects involving the consenting owners’ lawyers.

 

But Justice Choo said: ‘I am of the view that it is too tenuous an objection. Professionals cannot avoid working on the same projects. It does not follow that they necessarily agree or have reasons to be biased or prejudiced against other professionals.’

 

Gillman Heights owners will get between $870,000 and $950,000 per unit in the en-bloc sale. But many of those objecting to the sale say that it is more important for them to be able to keep their homes.

 

Source: Business Times

Gillman Heights en-bloc sale to move ahead following court’s ruling

Gillman Heights en-bloc sale to move ahead following court’s ruling

 

SINGAPORE : After three months of deliberation, Justice Choo Han Teck has delivered a 31-page judgment that – for now – signals the end of the Gillman Heights en-bloc saga.

 

However, it was not the outcome hoped for by the 22 minority owners seeking to scupper the S$548 million deal.

 

The judge said the specific issue was not one concerning protection for the minority, but “whether a privatised HUDC estate can participate in the benefits of an en-bloc sale if the requisite conditions are met”.

 

Under current laws, a 90 per cent approval is required for estates less than 10 years old and 80 per cent for those older.

 

Some 87.5 per cent of the 608 unit owners had agreed to the sale of Gillman Heights, built in 1984.

 

On the issue of the estate’s age, which the plaintiffs claimed was less than 10 years old since the condo only underwent privatisation in 1995 and acquired the Temporary Occupation Permits or Certificates of Strata Completion (CSC) in 2002, the judge ruled that the estate was more than 10 years old.

 

He said that there was also no bad faith and breach of natural justice due to the involvement of the National University of Singapore (NUS), which held 46.86 per cent share at the development.

 

Five months after the en-bloc sale was inked in February last year, it emerged that NUS was also a shareholder of Gillman Heights’ purchaser Ankerite Pte Ltd.

 

While some owners claimed this was a conflict of interest, Justice Choo said NUS was entitled to exercise its right as a consenting subsidiary proprietor (CSP) to vote for the collective sale.

 

He added: “The minority CSPs were duly noted of the NUS vote and execution of the collective sale agreement about six weeks before the application for approval was submitted to the Strata Titles Board.”

 

Futhermore, Gillman Heights was sold before property prices skyrocketed last year, so “it would not be appropriate for the Board or this court to assess good faith with regard to the sale price of the development through the lens of hindsight”.

 

Despite the setback, one minority owner – who declined to be named – said he is not giving up the fight.

 

“Many of us are still disappointed by the conflict of interest and we will stick it out till the end and take this case to the Court of Appeals.”

 

But Lee & Lee senior partner Quek Mong Hua, who represented the majority owners, said: “They have every right to appeal, but they have to consider if it is in their interest bearing in mind the cost.”

 

For now, Mr Quek said his clients were happy the judgement is out and they are hoping to complete the sale. – TODAY

 

Source: Channel NewsAsia

Willing away flat depends on form of ownership

Willing away flat depends on form of ownership

 

MY uncle is over 70 years old and married, but he does not have any children. He would like to include his three-room HDB flat in his will.

 

He and his wife are the lessees of the flat, which is fully paid for by him. His wife has not contributed any money for the flat.

 

Can he include the flat in his will? Is it true that in the event of his death, his wife will be the sole beneficiary of the flat? Does he need to have his wife’s consent for the will? And does she need to sign it?

 

A YOUR uncle is able to make a will on the flat, but whether it can be willed away will depend on two factors.

 

The first is the manner in which your uncle holds the flat with his wife, that is, whether as joint tenants (the usual manner of holding) or as tenants- in-common in defined shares.

 

The second is the right of survivorship if the flat is held as joint tenants.

 

If the flat is held as tenants- in-common in defined shares, your uncle can will his specific share away and, upon his death, the will operates to bequeath his share to his specified beneficiary.

 

If the flat is held as joint tenants with his wife, then the right of survivorship operates. This means that if your aunt dies before your uncle, the whole flat will belong to him and he can will it away.

 

If your uncle dies before your aunt, his undivided share in the flat will accrue to your aunt wholly, leaving nothing for his will to operate upon. Therefore, a will in these circumstances will not be useful.

 

You mentioned that the HDB flat is fully paid for by your uncle. Nonetheless, as long as your aunt’s name is included as joint owner of the flat, she has legal and equitable rights to it.

 

She may have made indirect contributions to it through her years with the family.

 

In the event of your uncle’s death, his wife will be the sole beneficiary of the flat, if it is held by both of them as joint tenants.

 

No, your uncle does not require anybody’s consent to make a will or to agree to its contents. However, if his wife desires to make a will that mirrors your uncle’s will (these are called mutual wills), she will have to make one in her own name and sign it. She is not required to sign your uncle’s will.

 

Do take note also that no beneficiary should sign as a witness of a will.

 

Lim Choi Ming

Partner, KhattarWong

 

Advice provided in this column is not meant as a substitute for comprehensive professional advice.

                                  

Source: Straits Times