Family in court tussle over $540,000 estate

A family inheritance dispute over a $540,000 flat has ended with the defendants being ordered to pay the plaintiffs more than $290,000, after the judge branded the defendants' case "a pack of lies".

The tussle was over the proceeds from a Holland Avenue four-room flat owned by Madam Ching Choong Hwa, who died of pneumonia in January 2011.

Eight years earlier, she had willed the property to be shared equally among her four children, two of whom died in 2010.

After her death, her two remaining children, Mr Chee Woei Seng, 55, and Mr Richard Chee Woei Meng, 57, sold the flat for nearly $540,000 and divided the money between themselves.

In 2013, Madam Ching's grandson Joshua Chee Teck An, 29; son-in-law Peh Leng Sing, 52; and granddaughter Melody Peh Ya Wen, 25 - representing their dead family members in the will - sued Mr Chee Woei Seng and Mr Richard Chee's wife, Ms Sharon Low Ah Hoon, for their shares of the flat.

The court case started in July this year.

In the closing submissions made on Oct 2, the defendants' lawyer, Mr Ooi Oon Tat, stressed that Madam Ching had changed her will when she was of "unsound mind".

But the plaintiffs' lawyer, Mr Chia Boon Teck, noted that this claim was "clearly an afterthought" and the defendants had no proof that she was of unsound mind.

Mr Chia also rebutted the defendants' argument that Madam Ching had agreed that their contributions to her livelihood were considered as loans which they could recover from the sale proceeds of the flat.

He added that they failed to keep any proper record or evidence of them.

"Not only is there a clear case of a civil breach of trust, but a compelling case for criminal breach of trust as well," Mr Chia said.

In delivering his judgment, District Judge Loo Ngan Chor said the defence lacked credibility and that the defendants' testimonies contradicted each other.

He added that the defendants "committed serious misfeasance" and ordered them to pay the two sets of plaintiffs - Mr Joshua Chee as well as Mr Peh and his daughter Melody - their shares of about $122,750 each and bear costs of the case totalling $47,000.

Mr Peh, a taxi driver, told The Straits Times: "We are very happy to have won the case, but very sad that they still won't pay us our share of the estate as they have already spent it.

"I am struggling to care for my family, so this money would have been a great relief for my family. But now, it is all gone."

Mr Chee Woei Seng declined to comment and Mr Richard Chee, who was also in court, would only say the decision was "unfair" .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Family in court tussle over $540,000 estate'. Print Edition | Subscribe