Heirs to $4m fortune from sale of old bungalow in Katong step forward

Mr Perry Koh, 49, is among at least five descendants who came forward following a Sunday Times report on Dec 8. The house, bought by his great-greatgrandmother Wan Chin Neo, was recently sold for almost $4 million, and the estate’s trustee is tryin
Mr Perry Koh, 49, is among at least five descendants who came forward following a Sunday Times report on Dec 8. The house, bought by his great-greatgrandmother Wan Chin Neo, was recently sold for almost $4 million, and the estate’s trustee is trying to trace her descendants to distribute the proceeds. -- ST PHOTO:DESMOND FOO

Great-great-grandson among descendants who put in claim for a share of house sale

Mr Perry Koh was at work two Sundays ago when one of his three sisters called and asked him to read the day's papers.

A report in The Sunday Times had stated that an old bungalow in Katong had recently been sold for almost $4 million, and the estate's trustee was searching for eligible beneficiaries of the proceeds.

Memories of his childhood came flooding back when he saw the photograph.

"I remembered visiting the home during Chinese New Year with my family and climbing its stairs," said the 49-year-old. "It seems so much smaller these days, compared to back then."

Mr Koh's great-great-grandmother Wan Chin Neo had bought the property in Carpmael Road in 1937 for the then princely sum of $1,900.

The small house today looks out of place in a row of newer private homes.

She decided it should remain in the family for generations to come, and created a trust that stated it was for her descendants to occupy in perpetuity.

But by the end of 1939 , she and her two adult daughters were dead.

Only her son Koh Hoon Teck - Mr Perry Koh's great-grandfather - was alive then.

More than 70 years later, the High Court ruled that her intention to keep the house in the family forever was not valid, after some descendants asked to clarify its legal status.

It ordered the property sold, and its proceeds distributed among her surviving descendants.

Mr Perry Koh had already been aware of the estate and his lineage. His father Walter, 80, is among the 15 - all descended from Koh Hoon Teck - who had already stepped forward to stake a claim to the estate, so he is unlikely to get a share.

But spurred by nostalgia and encouragement from relatives, the manager of a luxury watch shop told Rockwills Trustee that he and his four siblings wanted to be considered for a share of the money.

He is among Wan's great- and great-great-grandchildren - many of whom are retirees - that the estate planning and trust firm said it is largely dealing with in its search for heirs.

The search, which has included tombstone inspections at the Bukit Brown cemetery and a newspaper advertisement last month, had been a challenge as Wan and her three children were all long dead.

None of them had left a will, meaning the money should be shared by their descendants, who must first be traced.

Mr Koh and his siblings are among at least five living descendants of Wan who have stepped forward following the Sunday Times report on Dec 8.

Rockwills Trustee's chief executive Lee Chiwi, assisted by Mr Goh Kok Yeow of law firm De Souza Lim & Goh, will do a further search of court records and approach the High Court for an order to distribute the money to those who come forward - and are eligible under inheritance rules - by Jan 1.

Koh Hoon Teck, who was a founder of the Gunong Sayang Association, a well-known Peranakan cultural group, had 16 children and died at age 75 in 1956.

Less is known about his sisters Sun Hay and Keng Hay, who died in 1938 and 1939, respectively, and left nine children in all.

But according to an old newspaper report, Sun Hay's daughter, Tan Choo Neo, married Kelantan banker Goh Thian Hock in Singapore in 1936.

A tea party later thrown for the couple in Kota Baru in then Malaya was attended by the Sultan of Kelantan.

Mr Perry Koh drew up a detailed family tree and gave it to Rockwills Trustee as part of his claim.

He said researching and tracing his lineage in the process had been meaningful beyond the inheritance at stake.

"It was interesting. We uncovered relatives I never knew existed," he said.

pohian@sph.com.sg

Anyone with further information on Wan Chin Neo's descendants can contact Rockwills Trustee on 6221-8633