Lau Siew Kim v Yeo Guan Chye Terence and Another

JudgeBelinda Ang Saw Ean J
Judgment Date30 November 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] SGCA 54
Citation[2007] SGCA 54
Defendant CounselMichael Khoo SC, Josephine Low and Andy Chioh (Michael Khoo & Partners)
Published date04 December 2007
Plaintiff CounselChew Swee Leng (ComLaw LLC) and Sng Kheng Huat (Sng & Co)
Date30 November 2007
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 13 of 2007
CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
Subject MatterFactors to be considered in determining strength of presumption,Family Law,Trusts,Spouses holding properties as joint tenants,Resulting trusts,Presumption,Advancement,Whether presumption of advancement applying to displace the initial presumption,Presumption of advancement applying to presume intention of parties for rule of survivorship to operate,Whether presumption of resulting trust arising on facts,Presumed resulting trusts,Strength of presumption varying with circumstances in accordance with modern social conditions,Presumption of advancement still relevant in Singapore,Unequal contributions to purchase prices of jointly-owned properties,Interplay between presumptions of resulting trust and advancement,Interest in land,Time at which respective contributions of parties should be determined for purposes of presuming a resulting trust,Nature of contributions giving rise to presumption of resulting trust,Land,Whether sufficient evidence adduced to rebut presumption of advancement

30 November 2007

Judgment reserved.

V K Rajah JA (delivering the judgment of the court):

1 In modern societies, more properties are now being held in joint names. This has been engendered by a number of factors including rising property prices, joint-income families, gender equality, greater longevity, tax planning and the function of a home both as a residence and an asset. Given the increasing number of disputes involving the joint ownership of property, particularly between spouses, a clear articulation and understanding of the law governing the proprietary rights of co-owners is now more relevant than ever before. In this context, not all have properly grasped when and why equity has deigned to intervene so as to temper the seemingly unrelenting inflexibility of the common law and/or statutes.

2 The law of implied trusts was conceived to validate and facilitate the recognition of equitable interests whenever fairness required that formal title ownership be adjusted to reflect the real interests of the parties in a property. One such example of how equity has intervened to resolve uncertainty when it arises in connection with the beneficial ownership of property is through the presumption of resulting trust. A resulting trust is presumed to exist when the transferee has not given full consideration or is a fiduciary or is under an obligation to return the property to the transferor. Such a presumption is justified by the finding of a presumed intention of the transferor that he desires to retain ownership despite having parted with the legal title. A countervailing presumption is the presumption of advancement that applies to certain close relationships where it might be logically surmised that the transferor intended to make a gift to the transferee. Needless to say, both presumptions can be refuted by evidence of the real objective of the transferor. The presumptions are, in the final analysis, no more than evidential guidelines distilled from contemporary norms.

3 The present appeal addresses the merits of inferring and imposing a resulting trust on a joint tenancy of property based on the alleged presumed intention of a deceased joint tenant. Given the existence of a spousal relationship, the competing and diametrically opposite presumptions of resulting trust and advancement take centre stage in this inquiry. Current community attitudes and societal trends must be taken into account and are indispensable to a close scrutiny and study of each of these presumptions; equitable rules and doctrines should always be approached and applied in nothing less than a practical and principled manner. Larger policy issues also figure in the equation, extending not merely to real property in general, but to other types of property, such as bank accounts, as well. It must be emphasised, however, that not every instance of property jointly held by spouses would necessarily justify a “post-mortem” by the estate of a deceased spouse in order to divide the property with a view to claiming a beneficial interest proportionate to that party’s contributions. To that extent, one must consider and clarify the interplay between the presumption of resulting trust on the one hand and the presumption of advancement on the other, to determine which prevails in any given instance of a joint tenancy. To facilitate digestion of this judgment, we now set out the schematic arrangement we have adopted to address the issues raised:

(1) Facts

(a) Background

(b) The Minton Rise property

(c) The Jalan Tari Payong property

(2) The trial judge’s decision

(3) The parties’ contentions

(a) The appellant’s case

(b) The respondents’ case

(4) Equitable principles and doctrines

(a) Historical background of equity

(b) Modern development

(5) Presumption of resulting trust

(a) Historical origins

(b) Presumption of fact or law?

(c) Modern-day application

(i) Abolishing the presumption of resulting trust?

(ii) A more moderate approach

(6) Presumption of advancement

(a) Parent-child relationships

(b) Spousal relationships

(i) Relevance of the Women’s Charter

(7) Joint tenancies

(a) The case of joint tenancies between spouses: Interplay between the presumptions of resulting trust and advancement

(8) The present appeal

(a) Whether the presumption of resulting trust arises on the facts

(i) Time at which respective contributions of the parties should be determined

(ii) Nature of contributions which give rise to the presumption of resulting trust

(iii) The Minton Rise property

(iv) The Jalan Tari Payong property

(b) Application of the presumption of advancement

(i) Relevance of the second will

(ii) Legal advice on joint tenancy

(iii) Financial independence of the appellant

(iv) State of the relationship between the parties

(c) Rebuttal of the presumption of advancement

(i) Analysis of the evidence adduced by the respondents

(9) Conclusion


4 The factual essence of the present appeal may be captured within a narrow compass. The respondents had sought, inter alia, a declaration by the trial judge that the appellant held the properties at 149 Hougang Street 11 #10-136, Minton Rise, Singapore (“the Minton Rise property”) and 18 Jalan Tari Payong, Singapore (“the Jalan Tari Payong property”) on trust for the estate of Yeo Hock Seng, deceased (“the Estate”). The trial judge found that an unrebutted presumption of resulting trust arose on the facts with respect to both properties and it was declared that the appellant held the two properties on trust for both herself and the Estate, in proportions corresponding to their respective financial contributions to the purchase of the properties. The appellant now appeals against the whole of the trial judge’s decision.


5 The respondents are the only sons of the late Yeo Hock Seng (“Yeo”). Yeo had two acrimonious divorces, one with his first wife, the mother of the respondents, and the other with his second wife. These occurred in 1988 and 1996 respectively. For more than a decade before his death, Yeo was estranged from the respondents and both respondents admitted to not having any contact with their father during that period. On 18 December 2000, Yeo married the appellant, his third wife. This marriage endured until he passed away on 23 November 2004 as a result of a heart attack.

6 Yeo made two wills in his lifetime. His first will was dated 28 January 1992, and in it, he left all his real and personal property to the first respondent. Subsequently, on 20 May 1996, Yeo made another will (“second will”) which revoked his first will; the appellant was the sole beneficiary named in the second will. However, upon the application of the respondents in Suit No 32 of 2005, the High Court declared that the second will had been deemed to be revoked by the subsequent marriage of Yeo to the appellant on 18 December 2000. Summary judgment on this issue was awarded to the respondents on 5 July 2005. The appellant appealed against that decision but her appeal was dismissed with costs on 27 July 2005. As such, the rules governing intestacy would dictate the devolution of the Estate. This leads to the nub of the controversy. What property constitutes the Estate?

7 Yeo had interests in three properties at the time of his demise: 33 Fowlie Road, Singapore and 35 Fowlie Road, Singapore (collectively, “the Fowlie Road property”), the Minton Rise property and the Jalan Tari Payong property. The Fowlie Road property was initially 33 Fowlie Road (“the original 33 Fowlie Road”). It was demolished in 2002 and a pair of semi-detached houses was built in its place, ie, 33 Fowlie Road and 35 Fowlie Road. 33 Fowlie Road was sold in February 2004 for $1.828m. 35 Fowlie Road remains unsold. The Fowlie Road property was registered in Yeo’s sole name and the property is not the subject of dispute in the present appeal. The subject matter of this appeal comprises only the Minton Rise property and the Jalan Tari Payong property (collectively, “the Properties”), both of which were held on the basis of a joint tenancy in the names of Yeo and the appellant. After Yeo’s demise, however, the appellant became the sole registered owner of the Properties by virtue of the rule of survivorship.

The Minton Rise property

8 In April 2000, Yeo and the appellant purchased the Minton Rise property, a Housing and Urban Development Corporation maisonette under the fiancé/fiancée scheme as joint tenants. The property was the matrimonial home of Yeo and the appellant, and, to date, the appellant is still living in it.

9 The purchase price of the Minton Rise property was $495,000, and was partially financed by a housing loan of $396,000 jointly obtained by both Yeo and the appellant from Standard Chartered Bank on 6 June 2006. The balance purchase price of $99,000 was paid by Yeo from his overdraft account with Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited. Yeo’s overdraft account was discharged by a term loan of $1,200,000 which Yeo and the appellant obtained on 6 June 2006, in their joint names, from Standard Chartered Bank. This, in turn, was secured by a mortgage on the original 33 Fowlie Road.

The Jalan Tari Payong property

10 On 10 March 2004, Yeo and the appellant purchased 18 Jalan Tari Payong at an auction, as joint tenants, for $1,100,000. To finance the purchase, a housing loan of $770,000 secured by the property was obtained jointly by Yeo and the appellant from United Overseas Bank Limited (“UOB”) on 19 March 2004. A further short-term loan of $80,000 was obtained by Yeo and the appellant from UOB, by way of a joint letter of undertaking, to repay that sum from the sale proceeds of 33 Fowlie Road. The balance of the purchase price, which amounted to $250,000, was financed by the overdraft facilities obtained by Yeo and the appellant from UOB. This was also secured by the original 33 Fowlie Road; after the redevelopment of the Fowlie Road property and the sale of 33 Fowlie Road, the overdraft facilities were...

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