By Mr Lee Chiwi
Excerpt from PreceptsGroup Succession and Trusts in Wealth Management (4th edition) Book
A Battle of Wills and the Propounder Having the Burden of Proof to Show Mental Capacity
In Chee Mu Lin Muriel v Chee Ka Lin Caroline (Chee Ping Chian Alexander and another, interveners)  SGCA 27A the fight in court was between two sisters over the contrasting Wills that were made by their late mother, Madam Goh. On 16 March 1989, Madam Goh had executed the 1989 Will appointing C, who was her favourite daughter, as the sole executrix of her estate and bequeathed to her almost the entire residuary estate. Madam Goh made the 1989 Will about a month after her husband (the father) was incapacitated by a stroke. Other than providing for his needs, the grandchildren’s education and giving $150,000 to one son, she left the rest of her estate to C. In 1995, Madam Goh also transferred a half-share in the Holland Road house to C and her husband at a ‘discounted’ price. At the time of Madam Goh’s death, she owned several properties, the main one being the Holland Road house worth about $13 million. C’s sister M however propounded a 1996 Will executed by Madam Goh which gave C an option to buy her half-share of the house. This Will stated that the sales proceeds, with the rest of her estate, was to be shared equally among C’s five siblings. The 1996 Will cut C out of the inheritance. M, from getting nothing under the 1989 will, was to get a one-fifth share of her mother’s assets. In arriving at its decision, the Court held that M, as the propounder of the 1996 Will, had the burden of showing that Mdm Goh had testamentary capacity at the material time and the medical evidence adduced by her was insufficient. To discharge that burden, M had to adduce other non-medical evidence to show what the medical evidence did not show. While M did adduce other contemporaneous evidence in the form of eyewitness testimonies of what had happened during the signing of the 1996 Will to try to show that Mdm Goh had testamentary capacity, this evidence was rejected.
When the Will Is Given to Non-Family Members and Not the Next of Kin
In Dec 2007, the English High Court upheld the will of Golda Bechal despite attempts by her family to challenge it. Her entire £10 million estate was left to her Chinese friends, Kim Sing Man and his wife Bee Lian Man who run the Lian restaurant in Witham, Essex. The couple had been friends with “Goldie” Bechal, who was 89 when she died, and her husband Simon for many years. Her five nephews and nieces who contested the Will claimed their aunt was suffering from serious dementia, “lacked testamentary capacity” and demanded access to her fortune. But the High Court judge upheld the wishes of the widow and ruled that they would inherit none of Ms Bechal’s huge fortune. Ms Bechal left nothing to her surviving relatives.
Ms Bechal died in January 2004, leaving a portfolio of commercial properties. The judge accepted the Mans’ evidence that Ms Bechal, sad and lonely after the death of her husband and of her son, Peter, at the age of 28, became almost part of their family. The judge ruled that Golda “Goldie” Bechal was in sound mind when she gave the bulk of her estate to the Chinese couple whom the widow considered to be closer to her than her family. The Mans, who often served Ms Bechal her favourite dish of pickled leeks and beansprouts, expressed delight on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice that their friend’s wishes had been granted. Mrs Man said of Ms Bechal: “She was like a mother to us. We had a very special relationship. She described us as being like her children.”
The presiding judge dismissed a claim by Ms Bechal’s nephews and nieces that she did not have testamentary capacity when she made a pair of wills in May and August 1994.“It was not in any sense irrational to give the bulk of her estate to Mrs Man, whom she regarded as the daughter she never had, and to her husband,” he said. The court was told that Ms Bechal, who died in 2004, grew close to the Mans and went on holiday to Israel with Mrs Man in 1994. The judge said: “I am satisfied that by 1994 Ms Bechal did regard Mrs. Man with all the affection she would have given to a member of her own family.”