SINGAPORE - The youngest of five siblings, described by his sisters as the favourite child, was given 35 per cent of his parents' estate when they made mutual wills in 2001.
Such wills are made by two people who each sign separate similar wills and are legally bound not to revoke or change their will upon the other party's death.
The father died in 2004 and, in 2017, the mother made another will, stipulating that her assets of about $356,000 would be shared equally by the eldest and youngest daughters.
The two sons and middle daughter would get $1 each. After his mother's death in 2019, the youngest sibling, 56, took his two sisters, aged 63 and 60, to court. He sought a declaration that the 2001 mutual wills expressed his mother's last wishes.
On Friday (Aug 20), the High Court ruled in his favour, saying that the mutual wills "must take precedence" over the 2017 one.
The parties' names were not disclosed.
Justice Choo Han Teck said he found no evidence that the mutual wills were invalid or had been made under duress or undue influence.
In March 2001, the father, then 68, and the mother, then 64, had made mutual wills before their lawyer.
The younger son would get 35 per cent, the three daughters 10 per cent each, and a grandson 35 per cent. The older son would get nothing.
The couple agreed not to alter their wills and named their younger son and eldest daughter as the executors and trustees of the wills.
After the father died in 2004 at 71, the wills kept by the younger son were not produced.
In April 2017, the mother was taken to a lawyer to make a will by the eldest daughter, who regularly accompanied her to see doctors then.
The mother died in 2019 at 82.
The two defendant sisters argued that the mutual wills were made in suspicious circumstances or had not been properly explained to their parents.
They argued that the wills were made on March 8, 2001, three days after medical memos certified that the couple were of sound mind.
Justice Choo accepted the younger son's explanation that he forgot about the wills after the father died because the family assumed that all the assets would pass to the mother.
Hence, the question of inheritance became an issue only after she died.
Justice Choo accepted the testimonies of the lawyer and the lawyer's secretary who witnessed the making of the 2001 wills.
They said they did not deviate from standard practices, such as making sure the clients knew what they wanted done.
The judge said there was nothing to suggest that the couple's mental capacity had deteriorated in the three days between the certification and the making of the wills.
The judge added that if the younger son had wanted to influence his parents for his own benefit, it would seem odd that he would have them add his eldest sister as co-executor of the wills.
The judge also noted that the terms of the mutual wills, though not equal, were fairer than those of the 2017 one.
"Reading all the wills together, if there had been any undue influence on the mother, it would have been in respect of the 2017 will and not the mutual wills," he said.