Yang Yin saga

Wealthy widow's estate can pay niece's legal fees

Yang (above), Madam Mok and Madam Chung. Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.
Yang (above), Madam Mok and Madam Chung. Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.
(From far left) Yang, Madam Mok and Madam Chung. Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.
Yang, Madam Mok (above) and Madam Chung. Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.
Yang, Madam Mok and Madam Chung (above). Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.
Yang, Madam Mok and Madam Chung (above). Under the law, Madam Mok will not have to foot the legal fees for the case with Yang.

The nearly two-year tussle between former China tour guide Yang Yin and wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun over the control of her assets has thrown up a little-known aspect of legal fees in such cases.

Although Madam Chung does not have the mental capacity to act for herself, the law allows for her estate, estimated to be worth $40 million, to cover the legal bill.

There are also steps in place to ensure that the estate is not overcharged, said lawyer Peter Doraisamy, who is representing the widow's niece Hedy Mok.

Madam Mok, who has been appointed as her aunt's deputy under the Mental Capacity Act, has a legal bill of about $450,000 so far. It comprises about $376,000 in legal fees, $47,000 in disbursements and $27,000 in goods and services tax.

But she will not have to pay a single cent eventually. The Mental Capacity Act, which kicked in from March 2010, has a provision that allows for her to recover the legal costs from her aunt's estate.

Madam Chung was diagnosed with dementia in 2014.

Family lawyer Sim Bock Eng from WongPartnership said the provision is a "fair and reasonable" one.

Without this rule, the deputy would have to spend his or her own money to carry out the wishes of the patient. "This may disincentivise one from agreeing to be appointed as a deputy," she said.

It is unclear how many times legal fees have been charged to a person's estate in cases linked to the Mental Capacity Act. The Family Justice Courts did not respond to queries by press time.

Mr Doraisamy said there is a "very stringent regime in place" to protect the likes of Madam Chung.

"All fees in respect of court proceedings involving a patient lacking mental capacity under the Mental Capacity Act are to be taxed (scrutinised) by the court. This ... ensures that all fees and expenses are fair and reasonable within the circumstances of the case," he said.

The fees are also monitored by the Office of the Public Guardian, he added.

Madam Mok's legal bill covers two years of work in at least six separate proceedings in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Family Justice Courts.

The amount of the bill depends on factors such as the complexity of the case, the amount of work done in the case and the value of the claims.

The fees would have been higher if not for about $80,000 that the law firm waived for making a new statutory will and handling the appeal that Yang is making against it.

In 2014, Madam Mok commenced legal actions against Yang for allegedly manipulating her aunt into handing over her assets. Madam Chung, 89, met the former tour guide in 2008 in Beijing.

Yang was given the right to manage her assets and welfare under the Lasting Power of Attorney that she supposedly gave him in 2011. This was revoked in 2014.

While the Family Justice Courts recognised a new will made by Madam Chung last year, Yang is appealing against this decision. Under the new will, most of Madam Chung's assets will go to charity.

Separately, Yang faces more than 300 criminal charges and the trial for his criminal case is expected to start next month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2016, with the headline 'Wealthy widow's estate can pay niece's legal fees'. Print Edition | Subscribe