Court sets aside dead businessman's CPF nomination

In a novel case, the High Court has set aside the Central Provident Fund (CPF) nomination of a dead businessman, based on doubts that he was in the right mind when he signed the form.
In a novel case, the High Court has set aside the Central Provident Fund (CPF) nomination of a dead businessman, based on doubts that he was in the right mind when he signed the form.PHOTO: ST GRAPHIC

It rules that he might have been 'functionally incapable' when naming beneficiary

In a novel case, the High Court has set aside the Central Provident Fund (CPF) nomination of a dead businessman, based on doubts that he was in the right mind when he signed the form.

Mr Saw Eng Soon, who died at age 63 in 2013, had named Chinese national Liu Jiu Chang, 26, as beneficiary of close to $40,000 in CPF monies. But the court ruled that Mr Saw might have been "functionally incapable" of deciding on the CPF nomination as he was depressed then.

But Judicial Commissioner Aedit Abdullah stressed in judgment grounds released yesterday: "The finding that there was a real possibility of depression affecting Mr Saw's mental capacity does not translate into a proposition that depression will always affect testamentary capacity in the same way."

The Straits Times understands that besides the CPF money, Mr Saw also left a will. This states that proceeds from a maisonette he owned are to be distributed in specified sums to Ms Liu as well as another Chinese national and several others; what is left, if any, will go to his son, two daughters and wife.

Mr Saw first met Ms Liu in 2010 while she was interning as a hotel waitress and he treated her like a god-daughter. In 2011, he began to tell her his problems, including his business difficulties, mood swings and depression. He signed the CPF nomination form in October 2011.

He also told her in 2012 that his wife was divorcing him and he was on sleeping pills.

Ms Liu said he confided in her more often and started showing suicidal tendencies.

He was found hanging from a rope in 2013 in an apparent suicide.

Madam Leow Li Yoon, 61, his wife of about 43 years, discontinued the divorce suit and challenged the CPF nomination in court, but a district judge dismissed the claim.

She appealed to the High Court, where her lawyer V. Ramesh argued that the district judge had erred in rejecting her claim that Mr Saw lacked the mental capacity when he signed the CPF form. Mr Ramesh said sufficient medical and factual evidence had been produced to show that he had reactive depression before, during and after the signing of the CPF form.

Ms Liu, who represented herself, said her claim to the monies was valid and she did no wrong.

The judicial commissioner, in overruling the lower court decision, found that Mr Saw did not have the requisite mental capacity when he signed the nomination form. Mr Saw had been seeking mental health treatment since December 2011 at places such as National University Hospital (NUH).

"There is enough in the medical reports to raise doubts," noted the judicial commissioner, pointing out that the NUH report showed Mr Saw had low moods, reactive depression and suicidal thoughts triggered by debts during a three-month period coinciding with the signing of the form.

There was also expert opinion from psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, who stated that on balance, "it was likely (Mr Saw) was suffering from depression at the time he signed the form".

The judicial commissioner held that Ms Liu had not been able to show that Mr Saw had the requisite mental capacity then. He set aside the nomination and ruled that the CPF funds be disbursed under intestate rules.

The Straits Times understands that besides the CPF money, Mr Saw also left a will. This states that proceeds from a maisonette he owned are to be distributed in specified sums to Ms Liu as well as another Chinese national and several others; what is left, if any, will go to his son, two daughters and wife.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Court sets aside dead businessman's CPF nomination'. Print Edition | Subscribe