They were hoping to use their late grandmother's Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings to pay her funeral expenses.
But after waiting for more than a year, property agent Chan Jee May and her two sisters have decided to give up the fight.
The sisters lack the documents to prove they are related to Madam Lau Pei Ling, who died last October aged 93.
Man died before marriage could be annulled
When Ms Caroline Edmund read about the Chan sisters' plight in Ms Chan Jee May's forum letter on Nov 30, she could sympathise.
The accountant, in her 50s, told The Straits Times that her family has been waiting for four years now to collect nearly $50,000 from her late brother's CPF account.
Her brother Ignatius Edmund, a 42-year-old boarding officer, had been trying to get his marriage to a Filipino woman annulled, after not hearing from her for seven years.
But before the annulment could be finalised, he was killed in a traffic collision in India.
Under Singapore's inheritance laws, Mr Edmund's parents can get only half his CPF money unless his wife comes forward to state that she does not want the money.
Ms Edmund said they hired a lawyer to track down the woman, who was found to be living in the United States with another man. All their attempts to contact her have been ignored.
Ms Edmund's mother last went to the Public Trustee's Office (PTO) in May to plead their case. She died last month. Ms Edmund's 83-year-old father is now living in India.
Ms Edmund said: "If we had the rest of the money, my dad could afford to buy an apartment in Singapore and live here... We've tried to come at it from all angles, but they (the PTO) are so rigid. I'm so tired of this whole thing."
DEATH AND THE CPF MONEY OF YOUR LOVED ONES
If a CPF nomination has been made, the CPF Board will get in touch with the nominees within 15 working days of learning of the death. If no nomination was made, the Public Trustee Office (PTO) will disburse the deceased's CPF money according to the inheritance laws of Singapore, which are:
If survived only by their spouse, all money goes to their spouse
If survived by their spouse and children, half the money goes to the spouse and the other half is split equally among the children. Where the children have died, it will go to the children's children
If survived by their children but not their spouse, the money will be split among the children
If survived by their parents but neither spouse nor children, all money goes to the parents
If survived by none of the above, the money will be shared among, firstly, their siblings or their siblings' children if the siblings have died; if no surviving siblings, their grandparents; if no surviving grandparents, their aunts and uncles.
In a forum letter to The Straits Times published on Nov 30, Ms Chan lamented the "many hurdles" they faced in trying to prove their relationship to a woman who had left everything to them in her will.
Ms Chan, 36, said: "It's not like anyone is disputing our claim. The rest of our family thinks the money should go to us. I think the claims procedure could be more flexible."
A spokesman for the Public Trustee's Office (PTO), which disburses the CPF money of those who did not nominate beneficiaries before their death, said: "Under the CPF Act, CPF monies do not form part of the deceased member's estate and are not covered by a will."
The spokesman added that the PTO "will hold onto the monies indefinitely until the beneficiaries come forward to claim (them)".
Madam Lau had not nominated anyone to receive her CPF money, which Ms Chan estimated to be between $6,000 and $7,000, before she succumbed to colon cancer.
Ms Chan and her sisters, who are civil servants aged 36 and 38, are not the biological grandchildren of Madam Lau, who married their grandfather after the death of his first wife. The couple wed in a last-minute arranged ceremony during World War II and did not have a marriage certificate.
The sisters were orphaned as teenagers and were close to Madam Lau growing up. After she had a bad fall five or six years ago, they paid her hospital bill as well as for a helper to take care of her. And, until her death, the sisters would visit her almost every weekend, Ms Chan said.
To prove their relationship, the sisters tried to submit to the PTO a 1978 grant of probate in which their grandfather left his Toa Payoh flat to Madam Lau after his death, but this was not accepted as valid.
They then considered asking their grandmother's brother, who is in his 90s, to help them claim the CPF money. However, the PTO required his birth certificate, which was also lost in the war.
Lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said the Chans could get their grand-uncle to make a statutory declaration about their kinship.
WongPartnership lawyer Sim Bock Eng said: "Where there is no clear documentary evidence, in law, it is possible to persuade the CPF Board to accept other forms of evidence, such as a statutory declaration stating the relationship from one or more persons who would have the requisite knowledge of the relationship.
"The person will then need to sign the statutory declaration in front of a Commissioner for Oaths as a witness."
The PTO spokesman also said the office had advised Ms Chan to get Madam Lau's brother to make a statutory declaration on their relationship, either with a lawyer or at the PTO's premises.
The sisters, however, have since decided it is not worth the effort. "If we are going to have to trouble an old man who is not really mobile to help us get the money, we would rather just let it go," said Ms Chan.
"The money would probably end up going to the lawyer anyway."
- SEE FORUM