SINGAPORE – The mother of a divorced man who died without a will sued her grandson to lay claim over her son’s assets, including a $450,000 Housing Board flat in Tanjong Pagar.
Madam Rasalingam Letchumee, 82, contended that she was legally entitled to the property and money because her son repeatedly told her – from mid-2005 to 2019 – that his assets would go to her should he die before her.
She said she treated the flat as her home, spent money to renovate and improve it, looked after her son, did the household chores and paid for household expenses.
Madam Rasalingam argued that she “practically abandoned” her own flat in Jurong East as a result of her son’s representations and thus it would be unconscionable for her to be deprived of the Tanjong Pagar flat.
The grandson, Mr Shankar Rajendran, 26, counterclaimed against his grandmother over “unauthorised” withdrawals of about $181,000 from his father’s bank accounts.
In a written judgment on Friday, High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin dismissed each side’s claims.
He concluded that Mr Shankar was the sole beneficial owner of the flat by operation of the Intestate Succession Act.
He also found that Madam Rasalingam had not been unjustly enriched by the withdrawals of monies.
The dispute arose after her son, Mr Jaganathan Rajendaran, died in July 2019. He was 62.
The Tanjong Pagar flat had been the matrimonial home of Mr Jaganathan and his former wife, who left the flat with Mr Shankar when he was a toddler.
After the couple’s divorce was finalised, Mr Jaganathan became the sole owner of the flat in April 2005.
He was involved in a traffic accident on the night of July 30, 2019, and died in hospital in the early hours of July 31.
In early August 2019, Mr Shankar was alerted by his maternal relatives to his father’s obituary notice. He applied to be the administrator of his father’s estate.
The assets included the flat, a POSB account with about $120,800 and an OCBC account with about $55,500.
Madam Rasalingam, initially represented by lawyer Charles Yeo, sued Mr Shankar in 2021. After Mr Yeo left the country and became uncontactable in August 2022, Mr Rajwin Singh Sandhu took over the matter.
Madam Rasalingam asserted that her son’s flat should be passed to her because she had relied on his representations to her detriment, by paying for household expenses, moving in to stay with him, and spending $25,000 on the flat.
Mr Shankar, represented by Mr Wang Liansheng, denied that the purported representations were made, and that even if the representations had been made, Madam Rasalingam had not suffered any detriment.
In his written judgment, Justice Lee concluded that Madam Rasalingam’s son had probably told her that his assets would belong to her should he die before her, even though the judge noted the “oddity of an able-bodied son making such representations to his aged mother”. He found that these representations did not result in detriment to Madam Rasalingam.
The judge said she paid for groceries as and when it was convenient and necessary. Hence, any household expenses borne by her cannot be considered a detriment.
He added that allowing her other children to live in her Jurong East flat and leaving the unit to a daughter in her will did not constitute giving up her flat.
Justice Lee concluded that she moved into the Tanjong Pagar flat out of love and concern for her son, not in reliance on any representations. He said there was insufficient evidence to support Madam Rasalingam’s claim that she paid $25,000 for renovation and repairs.
There were no photographs tendered of the works, no breakdowns of the sums spent, and no mention of the name of the contractor.
As for the counterclaim, Justice Lee said that at the time the monies were withdrawn, Mr Shankar was not yet appointed as the administrator and therefore was not in a position to grant or withhold consent.