Wife tricked husband to sign document giving up millions in inheritance: Court

SINGAPORE - Just one week after his millionaire mother was killed in 2014, a man's wife tricked him into signing a handwritten deed of trust which would have him give up all his assets.

This included an inheritance of some $25 million from his late mother who was worth some $54 million.

The man, identified in court documents as BOK, was already someone of substantial means with two apartments in Marina Bay Sands, even before he started working. This was because of an inheritance from his late father.

In judgment grounds on Monday (Dec 11), Justice Valerie Thean granted the man's application to set aside the deed of trust on several grounds, describing his wife's actions as shocking "the conscience of the court".

The judge, who ordered the parties' names and details be redacted in her written grounds, said the document was signed when the man was still grieving and in isolation. The eight-day hearing was held over several months this year.

The man had signed the document on March 26 2014.

It provided for all of his assets, including the potential inheritance from his mother's estate, to be held by him and his wife on trust for their son who was then two years old.

The document was signed in the presence of her father, a senior lawyer.

But the couple's relationship soured and the woman, a 37-year-old former lawyer, filed for divorce on Nov 25 2015.

Five days later, BOK, now a 33-year-old managing director of an energy company, applied to the High Court to set aside the declaration of trust.

In granting his application, Justice Thean said BOK was "in a state of weakness at the time he signed the deed of trust".

This was "due to his grief and isolation, his relationship with (the woman), his lack of independent legal advice, and his trust in her ability as a lawyer", added Justice Thean.

"Misrepresenting to him that the deed of trust would take effect only upon his death, she took advantage of his emotionally vulnerable state in order to persuade him to part with the entirety of his assets, which were substantial," said the judge.

The couple had been childhood friends but BOK's mother had strongly disapproved of their marriage.

On March 19, 2014, the mother was killed at her Holland Road property and three days after her funeral, BOK signed the legal document.

About a year later, the couple's second child was born.

Senior Counsel Michael Hwang and Anthony Lee, acting for BOK, argued among other things that the woman's undue influence induced him to sign the document. BOK had also been mistaken about its legal effect.

Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan and lawyer Suresh Damodara, representing the couple's son and the woman respectively, countered that BOK started this suit because of a "change of heart" after standing to get at least $25 million of his late mother's assets.

The other share of the mother's estate was apportioned to his sister.

The assets he was entitled to inherit included the Holland Road property, shares and investments, and part of his late mother's porcelain art pieces.

Justice Thean was not convinced by the defendants' claims, noting among other things that at no time did BOK request his wife before the day the document was signed to draw it up in favour of his son.

"I find he was taken by surprise by (the wife) asking him to sign the deed of trust on March 26, 2014."

The judge said "his grief over his mother's death and the circumstances of his life after her passing rendered him susceptible to be influenced by the (wife)".

"There is no doubt that (the wife's) exploitation of (BOK)'s grief, isolation and lack of independent advice to lay claim to all he owns is properly to be described as an act of oppression and abuse of confidence that shocks the conscience of the court."