Family in 3-way tussle over businessman's will

Wife battling two sons over ownership of shop and claiming $600k against his estate

EXACTLY 12 years to the date of the death of a small-time businessman, his family members met in court for the start of a hearing into a three-way tussle over his million-dollar estate.

Madam Low Kim Thai, 79, who was left $3,000 in her late husband's will, is battling two of her sons over the ownership of a Boon Lay Housing Board shop unit, valued at $800,000 in 2002.

Her husband and the father of her four sons and three daughters, Mr Lai Thai Lok, was the registered owner of 51 per cent of the property, while her second son Foong Sin held a 49 per cent stake. But Madam Low now contends that the 51 per cent share belongs to her, and not her husband.

She is also claiming $600,000 that her husband received in 1992 when he transferred his rights in a Bedok HDB shop unit to a neighbour.

The money had been deposited into two bank accounts in her name, but she asserts that the funds were "spirited away" by her youngest son.

In June 2003, the patriarch had made a will giving his share of the Boon Lay property to eldest son Khian Hin, youngest son Hoon Woon and grandson Yida, the son of his bankrupt third son Foong Choong.

He willed his other assets, including $400,000 in the bank, to his three daughters, eldest son, youngest son and grandson. Foong Sin and Madam Low were given just $3,000 each.

After the patriarch died on June 25, 2003, Madam Low became the sole owner of their four-room HDB flat in Marsiling.

When Hoon Woon, appointed as the executor of the will, tried to distribute the assets, his elder brother Foong Sin refused to hand over the duplicate lease of the Boon Lay shop. Foong Sin said he owned the whole unit, not just 49 per cent, and that his father was holding 51 per cent on trust for him.

In 2012, Hoon Woon, represented by Mr Ramalingam Kasi, sued Foong Sin, represented by Mr Pratap Kishan.

The following year, Madam Low jumped into the fray.

The matriarch, represented by Mr Suresh Nair, applied to be added as a defendant in the suit, staking a claim on 51 per cent of the Boon Lay unit and claiming $600,000 against her husband's estate.

Madam Low, who married Mr Lai when she was 18, contends that her husband did not pay for the two shops and did not own them.

His name was on the documents because he was a traditional Chinese man who did not want his wife to be the registered lessee of the units, she asserts. He had rented the units at first.

She contends that she set up the two shops using her personal savings from working at her fishball noodles and laksa stall.

Madam Low says that she ran the two shops while raising seven children and was not formally paid a salary until 2005.

Hoon Woon contends that his father had decided to buy the Boon Lay property, keeping the majority stake while giving his four sons 49 per cent. Foong Sin, who ran the store, later bought over his three brothers' shares.

Hoon Woon argues that Foong Sin did not pay fully for their shares and their father came up with part of the money. He said that other than helping out at the store, his mother was not involved in the acquisition of the shop.

But Foong Sin said he paid his three brothers in full and his father did not contribute any money to the purchase of the shop.

Both Madam Low and Foong Sin are arguing that Mr Lai's will is not valid as the circumstances were suspicious and cast doubt on whether Mr Lai, who was in poor health at the time, was capable of making a valid will.

But Hoon Woon contends that the circumstances were not suspicious and that his father made the will of his own free will.

The trial, which is scheduled for 12 days, continues.

selina@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Family in 3-way tussle over businessman's will'. Print Edition | Subscribe