Coffee-shop assistant agreed to $200k inheritance but will now get over $2m instead

Madam Kuek, her elder sister Siew Eng, 63, and their mother, Madam Lim Swee, would each get $200,000 under the note.
Madam Kuek, her elder sister Siew Eng, 63, and their mother, Madam Lim Swee, would each get $200,000 under the note. PHOTO: ST GRAPHIC

Court rules her consent not valid as she was not told of actual worth of late dad's estate

A coffee-shop assistant who was offered $200,000 will now get more than $2million, after the apex court ruled that her late father's estate was to be shared based on intestacy rules on the division of assets and not on a note left by the patriarch.

The Court of Appeal ruled that a key consent document signed in 2010 by the assistant, Madam Kuek Siew Chew, 57, was invalid as she was not told of the value of her late father's estate at the time. Her father Kuek Ser Beng had died at age 72 in 2007 without a will but left assets including two houses, shares and savings, understood to be worth more than $13 million.

But the family uncovered a note in the safe after his death, under which the bulk of the estate would go to his son Hock Eng and his family. Madam Kuek, her elder sister Siew Eng, 63, and their mother, Madam Lim Swee, would each get $200,000 under the note.

But the patriarch had a second family with Madam Goh Ah Pi, with whom he had five children.

Siew Chew then signed a consent deed in 2010 to authorise her brother's two children Kuek Siang Wei and Kuek Tsing Tsia as administrators to settle the dispute with the second family. This led to a deed of arrangement in November 2010 under which Madam Goh's family would get a share, and some $1.65 million would be set aside from the estate to settle the dues under the note left by the patriarch, which included $200,000 for Siew Chew.

But, in 2012, she hired lawyer Tng Kim Choon, found out the extent of her late father's estate and successfully applied to the High Court to quash the consent documents.

The two administrators, through lawyer G Raman, appealed against the High Court decision, but this was rejected by the appeals court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Steven Chong.

They ruled that "non-disclosure of the material facts " justified the setting aside of the deed of consent, in judgment grounds released yesterday. The facts included the size of the estate and the chances of the second family's claim, if the estate was settled under intestate rules.

Under the Intestate Succession Act, the siblings' mother would get half the estate while the three siblings get one-sixth each. The grandchildren would not get a cent and whether the second family get anything depended on their case before the court that Madam Goh was the dead man's common law wife.

Madam Lim died in 2012 and son Hock Eng the following year.

The court ticked off Mr Michael Chia, the lawyer hired to act for the first family in relation to the patriarch's estate. Among other things, he did not consider why Siew Chew would give up her more substantial rights for $200,000, wrote CJ Menon. He also failed to come clean when she pressed him for details on the size of the estate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Heiress agreed to $200k but will now get over $2m instead'. Print Edition | Subscribe