Search for heirs to $4m bungalow in Katong

Madam Wan bought this house in Carpmael Road 76 years ago. She died without leaving a will. The house was sold earlier this year, and the trustee of her estate is trying to track down her descendants to distribute the proceeds. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG
Madam Wan bought this house in Carpmael Road 76 years ago. She died without leaving a will. The house was sold earlier this year, and the trustee of her estate is trying to track down her descendants to distribute the proceeds. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

House bought in 1937 for $1,900 has been sold; 15 people have staked claim so far

It was 1937 when Peranakan widow Wan Chin Neo, a mother of three, bought a small bungalow in Katong for the then princely sum of $1,900.

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

By the end of 1939, Madam Wan and her two adult daughters were dead. Only her son was alive.

It was more than 70 years before the house in Carpmael Road near Joo Chiat came to the attention of the High Court, when some of Madam Wan's descendants wanted to check if the trust was valid.

The court ruled that her intention to keep the house in the family forever was not valid and ordered the property sold, and its proceeds distributed among her surviving descendants.

The run-down house looks out of place in a row of newer private homes. It was sold earlier this year for almost $4 million.

Now a search is under way to track down Madam Wan's surviving descendants who are entitled to a share of the proceeds.

And that is proving quite a challenge for Mr Lee Chiwi, chief executive of Rockwills Trustee, and lawyer Goh Kok Yeow of law firm De Souza Lim & Goh, who is helping to trace the beneficiaries and deal with the relevant legal applications. Madam Wan and her three children are all long dead, and none of them left a will. Under inheritance rules, this means the money should be shared by their descendants.

But first, they must be traced.

So far, 15 people have stepped forward to stake their claim. All of them are descendants of Madam Wan's only son, Koh Hoon Teck.

"We are dealing largely with Madam Wan's great and great-great grandchildren, many of whom are already retirees and of senior age," said Mr Lee, whose estate planning and trust firm was appointed this year as trustee for the estate.

Based on his research, Hoon Teck had 16 children, several of whom were victims of the Sook Ching massacre during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

Hoon Teck died at age 75 in 1956, according to his tombstone inscription. He was a founder of the Gunong Sayang Association, a well-known Peranakan cultural group, and once ran a bookshop in the Raffles Hotel.

Considerably less is known about the descendants of his sisters Sun Hay and Keng Hay, who died in 1938 and 1939 respectively, leaving nine children in all.

The search for Madam Wan's descendants has included tombstone inspections at the Bukit Brown cemetery, a listing on the Government Gazette, and a newspaper advertisement last month.

The two men will do a further search of court records and then approach the High Court for an order to distribute the money among those who come forward by Jan 1.

If no other descendants step forward, the 15 family members who have done so will receive a bigger share.

"Ultimately, each beneficiary's share could be reduced if more emerge and can prove they are descended from one of Madam Wan's three children," said Mr Goh.

"But it would still be a windfall which they didn't expect to get."

pohian@sph.com.sg

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