Singapore

Court dismisses children's challenge to wealthy widow's will

Two children of former lounge hostess received smaller inheritance than their three siblings

Two children of a wealthy widow, who each received a smaller inheritance than their three siblings, challenged the validity of her will, alleging their mother's bipolar disorder had affected her mental capacity to make a will.

The mother of five, who went from being one of a businessman's four mistresses to the matriarch of the family, died in November 2016, a few days before her 81st birthday.

In her May 2002 will, she gave her eldest son, second son and youngest son one share each of her estate, while her only daughter received a half share. Her third son, a father of three who did not hold a job for most of his adult life, got just $10,000.

In a written judgment on Tuesday, the High Court held the will was valid, ruling in favour of the eldest and second sons, the executors of the will who were sued by their two siblings.

Judicial Commissioner Tan Puay Boon found that the woman's bipolar disorder was in remission at the time, rejecting the claim of the third son and daughter that she lacked testamentary capacity.

The judge also rejected their claim that their mother made the will under the "undue influence" of their eldest and second brothers.

The evidence showed she "exercised a substantial degree of free will and independence in her daily affairs" at the time, he said.

The woman, a Cantonese-speaking former lounge hostess, left a substantial estate that included a 856.9 sq m family property in Tanjong Katong worth more than $10 million.

If the will had been found invalid and her estate divided equally among the siblings, the three favoured sons would each get several million dollars less.

The woman was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1978. Over the years, she was treated for her mental illness on multiple occasions.

After her husband died in 2002, she told her lawyer to draft a letter to evict her third son from the family home. She also told him to draft a will.

The judge said the woman's rationale for giving her third son only $10,000 was "logically explicable", given their poor relationship.

The third son, who lived at the family home with his wife and children, never had a job because each son had yearly dividends of about $100,000 to $200,000 from their share of the family firms.

She was so bent on getting him to move out that she used a changkol, a digging tool with a long handle, to smash the windows of his bedroom in 1999.

The judge said it was also explicable the woman gave her daughter less than the other three sons but more than the third son.

He said there was sufficient evidence the woman held conservative views on gender roles and subscribed to traditional values of her generation that favoured sons over daughters.

"Whatever legacy that children may expect to receive under the will of a parent who has passed on, it should be remembered that a testator has full autonomy on how to dispose of his estate," said the judge.

"A parent is entitled to have favourite children and least-favoured children, in accordance to his or her subjective preferences."

COURT & CRIME