Lim Chen Yeow Kelvin v Goh Chin Peng

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChan Seng Onn J
Judgment Date30 July 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] SGHC 119
Citation[2008] SGHC 119
SubjectTrusts,Deceased's estate claiming moneys in joint account from surviving joint account holder,Resulting trusts,Presumed resulting trusts,Whether presumption of resulting trust arose in relation to joint bank account with right of survivorship,Whether deceased intended to give beneficial interest in moneys in joint account to surviving joint account holder
Date30 July 2008
Plaintiff CounselTito Isaac and Justin Chan (Tito Isaac & Co LLP)
Defendant CounselMichael Loh (Clifford Law Corporation)
Docket NumberSuit No 300 of 2007
Publication Date01 August 2008

30 July 2008

Chan Seng Onn J:

The dispute

1 This action was brought by the plaintiff in his capacity as the sole executor and trustee of the estate of Lim Bee Bee (“Bee Bee”). The defendant is Bee Bee’s boyfriend, who had cohabitated with Bee Bee from March 2003 till her untimely death on 9 January 2007.

2 The dispute was over the United Overseas Bank Limited (“UOB”) Time Deposit Account No: 385-XXX-XXX-X in the joint names of Bee Bee and the defendant (“joint account”). This account was initially in Bee Bee’s sole name. On 25 June 2004, the defendant was added as a joint/alternate signatory to the account and the sole account was therefore converted into a joint account. It was not disputed that all the monies in the joint account were contributed by Bee Bee and no contribution whatsoever was made by the defendant. On this basis, the plaintiff argued that the presumption of resulting trust applied and monies in the joint account should revert to and form part of the estate of Bee Bee. On the other hand, the defendant submitted that the monies belonged to him as the joint account holder by virtue of his right of survivorship.

3 At the trial, the plaintiff led evidence to show that Bee Bee loved and cared for him (including his family and his mother) so much that she intended to give everything to him (including the monies in the joint account) and the plaintiff relied, inter alia, on Bee Bee’s last will, to evidence this. Plaintiff’s counsel submitted, inter alia, that Bee Bee could not have preferred to benefit the defendant over her immediate “family” (not used by counsel in the true sense of that word as it excluded Bee Bee’s own brother and sister but included the plaintiff (Bee Bee’s nephew) and the plaintiff’s mother (Bee Bee’s sister-in-law)), forsaking all such “family ties” between herself and the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s family. The defendant’s case was that the defendant and Bee Bee (both divorcees) lived together as if they were husband and wife, and by adding the defendant as a joint account holder subsequent to the execution of her last will, she clearly intended to give him the monies in the joint account as she dearly loved him.

4 In this case, three men featured prominently in Bee Bee’s life: her ex-husband, the plaintiff and later, the defendant. To try to determine what Bee Bee’s real intentions were with regards to the monies in the UOB joint account, it was necessary to understand Bee Bee as a person, her character, her generosity and her relationship with these three men. Of some importance was the question why she made the first will giving everything to her ex-husband, why she later made a second will giving everything to the plaintiff and why she subsequently allowed the defendant to become a joint account holder with a right of survivorship in the UOB joint account, in which she kept practically all the proceeds of the sale of her Australian property.

Who was Bee Bee?

5 Bee Bee was born on 20 January 1955. She had two brothers, Rosli Lim Bin Abdullah @ Lim Hui Seong (“Rosli”) and Lim Wee Kim (“Wee Kim”), and one sister, Lim Bee Lian (“Bee Lian”). Rosli was the eldest followed by Wee Kim and Bee Lian. Bee Bee was the youngest of the family. Bee Bee’s younger brother, Wee Kim, married Molly Neo Ah Heaw (“Molly”) and the plaintiff is their son (and only child of the marriage). Molly and Bee Bee were thus sisters-in-law and the plaintiff is the nephew of Bee Bee.

6 In 1973, Bee Bee started work as an air stewardess with Singapore Airlines (“SIA”) when she was 18. Both counsel informed me that she was the “face of SIA”, which I understood to mean that she was once the poster girl in the advertisements of SIA during the earlier days of the airline. In 1976, Bee Bee married one Michael Cheong (“Michael”), an air steward.

7 Realizing that air stewardesses had a “shelf life”, she decided to pursue a career which could sustain her for a longer period. When she left the airline industry, she attended at the hair dressing school “Morris Masterclass” in London. After completing her course, she returned to start a hair design and beauty salon business as a sole proprietor in 1978 with some money borrowed from her auntie and close friends. Later in 1988, she registered it as a limited exempt private company and named it Matchpoint Hairdesign & Beauty Salon Pte Ltd (“Matchpoint”). Its business premises was at Blk 340 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1, Street 32, #01-1687, which comprised a shophouse on the ground floor and a residential unit (the “flat”) above the shophouse. Matchpoint later purchased the business premises.

8 Matchpoint was run as a family business. Bee Bee and Michael were in charge of the business. Molly took care of the marketing and cooking (of both lunch and dinner) for the family and employees of Matchpoint, for which she received a gratuity of about $250 per month, which was later increased to $450 per month after her husband passed away. Bee Bee treated Molly and the plaintiff very much as part of her “family”.

9 According to the plaintiff, Bee Bee was a successful hair stylist leading a glamorous life. She was also a savvy business woman who had built Matchpoint from scratch. She was bubbly and had a vivacious personality.

Bee Bee’s relationship with the plaintiff and Molly

10 The plaintiff’s evidence was that Bee Bee always looked after him as her son, especially after the plaintiff’s father passed away in 1981 at the young age of 29 when the plaintiff was only 7 years old. She would shower him with gifts from her travels during the time she was an air stewardess. She spoilt him, never turning down his requests. Bee Bee and Michael did not have any children of their own and they adopted the plaintiff as their godson.

11 At the invitation of Bee Bee, the plaintiff and his parents moved into the flat sometime in 1979 and stayed with Bee Bee. In 1980, Molly and her family moved out as they had successfully applied for their own flat at Blk 646 Ang Mo Kio Lord 6 #06-4911.

12 After leaving school, the plaintiff started work at a hair salon in Yishun for a few months and thereafter worked for Michael as a sales executive, selling hair care products to hair salons. Michael was a director of both Matchpoint and his own business. The plaintiff also worked for Bee Bee at Matchpoint during the weekends. At the insistence of Bee Bee, the plaintiff started working full time at Matchpoint in 1999. He was about 25 years old at that time.

13 The plaintiff found that it was fun working at Matchpoint. When they were not working, Bee Bee, Molly and the plaintiff (or those present) would spend time chatting about any topic. He had great affection for his aunt, and he believed that she felt the same affection for him.

Bee Bee’s marriage, separation, divorce and her first will

14 Bee Bee and Michael had a very stormy relationship during the 1980s. They had bitter arguments at Matchpoint over Michael’s womanising, gambling and his demands for money from Bee Bee. The plaintiff would try to comfort her as these quarrels left her distraught.

15 In June 1983, she decided to separate from her husband. In the deed of separation, she covenanted with Michael that each should live separate and apart and be free from marital control and each would have full independence in his or her affairs, and both parties agreed to free each other from their duty to cohabit. Bee Bee also ensured in the deed that their separation should not in any way adversely affect their joint business in MatchPoint and they mutually covenanted to do their utmost for the benefit of the business including the preservation of the status quo and to indemnify each other against all debts or liabilities that the other might subsequently contract.

16 Despite her many bitter quarrels with Michael, the legal separation and Michael’s unabated philandering, I understood from the evidence of the plaintiff and Molly that Bee Bee continued nevertheless to love Michael deeply. They continued to stay together in Matchpoint after the separation.

17 On 13 April 1987, Bee Bee filed a petition for divorce on the ground that the marriage had irretrievably broken down, stating inter alia, that:

(a) She and Michael had abided by the deed of separation;

(b) Michael had shown indifference to the marriage and detachment to her, remaining uncommunicative and unapproachable;

(c) Michael had further shown repugnance over any intimacy and had ignored her whenever the subject of marriage cropped up;

(d) The marriage had broken down to the extent that Michael had shown no feeling and affection for her and for all intents and purposes, lived a separate life from her;

(e) She had questioned Michael about his registration as a guest in Great Eastern Hotel, Macpherson Road on 29 July 1986 and Michael admitted committing adultery with another woman.

18 However on 20 November 1987 when Bee Bee made her last will and testament (the “first will”), she still gave all her real and personal property to Michael. One would imagine that Bee Bee, having already filed for divorce, would not bequeath anything to Michael in her will. Why then did she give everything to Michael in her will? With their marriage on the verge of breaking up and if she really had to make a will, why did she not decide then to leave everything in her will to the plaintiff, for whom she had great affection? Instead, she left nothing to the plaintiff in this first will of hers.

19 All this perhaps could only be fathomable if one could understand that Bee Bee’s “great affection” for the plaintiff as her godson and nephew was very different from and cannot be equated with Bee Bee’s “love” for Michael, which I understood from the evidence of the plaintiff and Molly to have been one of “romantic and intimate love and affection”. It must have been the “romantic and intimate love and affection” that influenced her to bequeath everything she had to Michael and to him alone, in spite of everything that Michael...

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1 books & journal articles
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    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2011, December 2011
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