Wealthy widow’s children tussle over appointment of deputies to manage her affairs
Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 12 May 2023
Author: Selina Lum
Professional deputies can be appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of an individual who has lost the mental capacity to do so.
Two children of an 84-year-old widow with severe Alzheimer’s disease, who are tussling for control of their parents’ wealth, faced off in court over who should be appointed as their mother’s deputy to manage her properties and affairs.
Ms J, 52, the third of four children, argued that she was most suitable to be the deputy, as she was her parents’ personal assistant and knew what they wished to do with their properties, assets and investments.
She said she had always been the one taking care of their mother, and that her proposed co-deputy, lawyer Low Seow Ling, has had a longstanding reputation as a professional deputy.
Her older brother Mr T, 59, argued for chartered accountant Lau Chin Huat, who is also a professional deputy, to be appointed instead.
Mr T, who described his mother as a “vengeful woman” who “married for monetary reason”, argued that given the acrimonious relationship among the siblings, it was best to appoint a professional deputy.
Professional deputies can be appointed by the court to make decisions on behalf of an individual who has lost the mental capacity to so do.
On Thursday, the High Court allowed Ms J’s application to be appointed as her mother’s deputy and dismissed Mr T’s application.
Justice Choo Han Teck also granted Mr T’s application to revoke his mother’s lasting power of attorney (LPA) made on Jan 10, 2019.
The judge found that she had lost her mental capacity by then, when she appointed her husband and Ms J as her donees to make decisions on her behalf.
In his written judgment, Justice Choo said the fact that Ms J has been looking after her mother’s well-being was good enough for her to continue.
And given that there are more legal wrangles to follow, appointing Ms J to safeguard her mother’s financial interests may also act as a counterbalance to Mr T, said the judge.
In July 2020, the siblings’ father signed an LPA appointing Mr T as his sole donee, to make decisions on his behalf over his personal welfare, property and affairs.
The patriarch, who died at age 92 in February 2021, left a will that has not yet been proved, and may be the subject of the next litigation, noted the judge.
The widow has a legal claim against her husband’s estate for unpaid salary, loans and accrued director’s fees, amounting to about $1.85 million.
Ms J argued that her mother was entitled to the money, but Mr T said that his sister was making claims in their mother’s name.
Justice Choo said it was not in the widow’s interests to have her deputy appointed by Mr T, who may be in a conflict of interest.
The judge also appointed the couple’s youngest child, Mr W, 49, to be joint deputy with Ms J.
He said that just as Ms J should keep Mr T in check, there should be another deputy to keep Ms J in check.
The eldest child, Ms G, 60, who lives overseas, is not involved in the family’s business and affairs, including the current case.
The family fortune was built from the 1960s when the siblings’ parents were in the leather trading business.
The couple became wealthy mainly from property investments, and jointly owned 17 pieces of real estate, in addition to money in bank accounts and other assets.
No specific figure was given for the value of their business.
The matriarch held in her sole name about $3.9 million in assets, including shares and insurance policies, while the patriarch held in his sole name about $2 million in assets, including shares and bank accounts.
They also jointly held assets of about $1.3 million, mainly comprising bank accounts and shares held in a joint portfolio.
Ms J claimed that Mr T began “hoarding” their father in 2019, which resulted in the patriarch becoming increasingly distant from her.
She said she was alarmed after her father withdrew $260,000 from one joint account and $792,755.07 from another joint account in November 2020, so she told her lawyers to write to him, because his actions were not in the best interests of her mother.
On the other hand, Mr T alleged that in the two years prior to their father’s death, Ms J acted “mercenarily towards her parents”.
He said the withdrawal of monies from the bank accounts was to prevent Ms J from taking control of the family assets.
He said the patriarch was angered and distressed when he received legal letters from his own daughter.
Following these events, Ms J was told to vacate her father’s house in Bukit Timah and dismissed from the family business.
Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.