8 siblings resolve $20m tussle over their parents' estate

Two brothers who own semi-detached houses in contention agree on settlement with the rest

Eight siblings have managed to settle a $20 million wrangle over the estate of their parents, a school principal and his teacher wife, without proceeding to a High Court trial.

Six siblings had sued their two brothers over the division of the family's eight properties.

The dispute centred on two semi-detached houses in Richards Avenue, off Upper Serangoon Road.

One is in the name of eldest child Tan Nga Kok, 71, and the other is in the name of third child Tan Thian Kok, 67.

After the death of their father Tan Tuan Hock in 2011, the two brothers objected to the inclusion of their houses in the list of assets belonging to their father, which were to be divided equally among all eight of them.

The pair claimed they were meant to be the sole beneficiaries.

But their six siblings took the two brothers to court, contending that the two houses were part of their father's estate and that the brothers were merely holding it for them in trust.

A trial was originally scheduled to start on Tuesday but, instead, the parties went into negotiations. Mr Tan Nga Kok reached a settlement with his siblings that evening while Mr Tan Thian Kok arrived at an agreement with them yesterday. The terms of settlement are confidential.

The late Mr Tan and his wife, Madam Soh Whee Hong, were teachers who emigrated to Singapore from China in the 1940s. He later became the principal of the now-defunct Dji Cheng School in Potong Pasir.

In 1965, according to the plaintiffs and Mr Tan Nga Kok, their parents bought a row of four houses in Richards Avenue. Two were registered in the names of a relative and two in the name of Madam Soh's mother.

In 1968, one was transferred from the relative to Mr Tan Nga Kok while the other was transferred from Madam Soh's mother to Mr Tan Thian Kok.

Both were rented out until the brothers moved in in the 1980s. The other two houses were later sold.

Mr Tan Nga Kok's contention was that his parents had always intended to give him the house. It was not transferred immediately as he had yet to turn 21 at the time.

Mr Tan Thian Kok contended that it was their grandmother who bought the house and later gave it to him.

But the plaintiffs argued that the patriarch owned the houses and did not intend for the two sons to be the sole beneficiaries.

They relied on letters ostensibly written by their father, in which he said that he used relatives' names as it was "not convenient" for him and his wife to buy four houses in their own names and that he later "temporarily" used his children's names.

Besides the Richards Avenue houses, the patriarch bought six other properties.

Fourth child Tan Tiong Kok is the sole owner of one unit and joint owner of three units. But he has acknowledged that he was holding them in trust for his father's estate.

Had the two houses been included in the pool of assets, each sibling would get $2.5 million. But if the defendants had their way, each share would shrink to $1.5 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2016, with the headline '8 siblings resolve $20m tussle over their parents' estate'. Print Edition | Subscribe