Son loses bid to have dad's 'secret will' recognised

Mr Lian Seng Peng - who died aged 93 in December 2012 - had left his house in Siglap (above) to his wife, and the rest of his estate to his six grandchildren, in a will made on Dec 18, 2010. But the youngest of his three sons claimed that his father
Mr Lian Seng Peng - who died aged 93 in December 2012 - had left his house in Siglap (above) to his wife, and the rest of his estate to his six grandchildren, in a will made on Dec 18, 2010. But the youngest of his three sons claimed that his father had made a secret will four months before his death.ST FILE PHOTO

Judge finds circumstances surrounding alleged will suspicious and rejects claim

The only son of a late Chinese businessman has lost a High Court bid to recognise a secret handwritten will supposedly made by his father, after a judge called the circumstances surrounding it "suspicious".

Mr Lian Seng Peng died aged 93 in December 2012, leaving $7 million in assets, the bulk of which is a house in Siglap.

The youngest of his three children, Mr Lian Kok Hong, claimed that four months earlier, his father had made a will leaving $100,000 to each of his six grandchildren.

It also called for the Jedburgh Gardens house to be sold and the proceeds used to set up a charity fund, for $1 million to be donated to Thong Chai Medical Institution and $1 million to be donated to a school in his hometown in China.

In her written judgment released yesterday, Justice Judith Prakash rejected the claim, ruling in favour of a December 2010 will in which Mr Lian left the house to his wife and the rest of his assets to his six grandchildren. She said the circumstances surrounding the 2012 will were "sufficiently suspicious" and that Kok Hong had not proved that his father knew and consented to the terms of the 2012 will .

"To me, the plaintiff's account has all the hallmarks of a deliberate attempt to set up the execution of the August 2012 will in such a way that its validity could not be questioned later," she said.

Kok Hong, 60, had sued his sister Bee Leng, 64, and niece Hui Ying, 46, last year. They were executors of the 2010 will, made at a law firm.

Kok Hong wanted the court to declare that the August 2012 will represented his father's true wishes.

On Dec 18, 2010 - in a will prepared by a lawyer and witnessed by the family doctor - Mr Lian had left the house to his wife, Madam Soh Seat Hwa, and the rest of his estate to his six grandchildren in equal shares.

In 2013, Kok Hong stopped his sister and niece from distributing the assets according to the 2010 will, claiming that he held his father's final will. It was dated June 10, 2012, but amended to Aug 10 that year and counter-signed by Mr Lian.

Kok Hong, who runs a chemical company, testified that on the latter date he visited his father with five of his employees. They had with them the draft will his father had given him in June. Photos were taken as the old man signed the will with two witnesses present - Mr Goh Tay Sin and Mr Zhu Jintian.

Justice Prakash pointed out the suspicious circumstances, noting Kok Hong's "keen interest" in his father's will and that he often asked what he was going to do with the house. She found that Kok Hong had no reasonable explanation for his Aug 10 visit to his father, involving a 45-minute drive from his workplace in Tuas to Siglap.

More importantly, Kok Hong's testimony that Mr Lian made the amendments himself was directly contradicted by Mr Goh's testimony that the amendments had already been made when the will was placed before the patriarch.

She also noted that Mr Lian had stated unequivocally in a video in April 2012 that even if he had written a will, he would not have shown it to Kok Hong. There was no explanation for the patriarch's major change of heart two months later when he purportedly handed the draft will to Kok Hong, she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Son loses bid to have dad's 'secret will' recognised'. Print Edition | Subscribe