Wife tricked man into giving up inheritance

Judge sets aside deed of trust, saying it was signed when he was grieving for his mother

Just one week after his millionaire mother was killed in 2014, a man's wife tricked him into signing a handwritten deed of trust which would have him give up all his assets.

This included an inheritance of some $25 million from his mother, who was worth some $54 million.

The man, identified in court documents as BOK, was already someone of substantial means, with two apartments in Marina Bay Sands, even before he had started working. This was because of an inheritance from his father.

In judgment grounds on Monday, Justice Valerie Thean granted the man's application to set aside the deed of trust, describing his wife's actions as shocking "the conscience of the court".

The judge, who ordered the parties' names and details to be redacted in her written grounds, said the document was signed when the man was still grieving and in isolation. The eight-day hearing was held over several months this year.

The man had signed the document on March 26, 2014, three days after his mother's funeral. She was killed on March 19, 2014, in her Holland Road property.

The deed provided for all of his assets to be held by him and his wife in trust for their son who was then two years old.

The man, identified in court documents as BOK, was already someone of substantial means, with two apartments in Marina Bay Sands, even before he started working. This was because of an inheritance from his late father.

But the couple's relationship soured and the woman, a 37-year-old former lawyer, filed for divorce on Nov 25, 2015.

Five days later, BOK, now a 33-year-old managing director of an energy company, applied to the High Court to set aside the deed of trust.

In granting his application, Justice Thean said: "Misrepresenting to him that the deed of trust would take effect only upon his death, she took advantage of his emotionally vulnerable state in order to persuade him to part with the entirety of his assets, which were substantial."

Senior Counsel Michael Hwang and lawyer Anthony Lee, acting for BOK, argued that the woman's undue influence induced him to sign the document. BOK had also been mistaken about its legal effect.

Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan and lawyer Suresh Damodara, who were representing the couple's son and the woman respectively, countered that BOK started this suit because of a "change of heart" after standing to get at least $25 million of his late mother's assets.

The other share of the mother's estate was apportioned to his sister. BOK was entitled to inherit the Holland Road property, shares and investments, and part of his late mother's porcelain art pieces.

Justice Thean was not convinced by the defendants' claims, adding that "his grief over his mother's death and the circumstances of his life after her passing rendered him susceptible to be influenced by the (wife)".

"There is no doubt that (the wife's) exploitation of (BOK)'s grief, isolation and lack of independent advice to lay claim to all he owns is properly to be described as an act of oppression and abuse of confidence that shocks the conscience of the court."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2017, with the headline 'Wife tricked man into giving up inheritance'. Print Edition | Subscribe