Yeo Guan Chye Terence and another v Lau Siew Kim

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date12 January 2007
Docket NumberSuit No 855 of 2005
Date12 January 2007

[2007] SGHC 7

High Court

Lai Siu Chiu J

Suit No 855 of 2005

Yeo Guan Chye Terence and another
Plaintiff
and
Lau Siew Kim
Defendant

Lim Chor Pee (Chor Pee & Partners) for the plaintiffs

Chew Swee Leng (as counsel) and Sng Kheng Huat (Sng & Company) for the defendant.

Cheong Yoke Kuen v Cheong Kwok Kiong [1999] 1 SLR (R) 1126; [1999] 2 SLR 476 (refd)

Lai Min Tet v Lai Min Kin [2004] 1 SLR (R) 499; [2004] 1 SLR 499 (refd)

Lee Hiok Tng v Lee Hiok Tng [2001] 1 SLR (R) 771; [2001] 3 SLR 41 (refd)

Liew Choy Hung v Fork Kian Seng [2000] 1 MLJ 635 (refd)

Low Gim Siah v Low Geok Khim [2007] 1 SLR (R) 795; [2007] 1 SLR 795 (refd)

Neo Boh Tan v Ng Kim Whatt [2000] SGHC 31 (refd)

Neo Tai Kim v Foo Stie Wah [1981-1982] SLR (R) 222; [1980-1981] SLR 215 (refd)

Sitiawah Bee bte Kader v Rosiyah bte Abdullah [1999] 3 SLR (R) 606; [2000] 1 SLR 612 (refd)

Teo Siew Har v Lee Kuan Yew [1999] 3 SLR (R) 410; [1999] 4 SLR 560 (refd)

Terence Yeo Guan Chye v Lau Siew Kim [2006] SGHC 227 (refd)

Supreme Court of Judicature Act (Cap 322, 1999 Rev Ed) s 14 (1)

Land–Interest in land–Property held by parties as joint tenants–Whether parties joint tenants at law or tenants in common in equity–Whether existence of resulting trust overriding right of survivorship in joint tenancy–Trusts–Resulting trusts–Presumed resulting trusts–Whether presumed resulting trust displaced by presumption of advancement–Application of presumption of advancement in Singapore

The plaintiffs sued the defendant, their stepmother, claiming that certain properties (“Minton Rise” and “18 Jalan Tari Payong”), which she held jointly with their late father (“the deceased”), were held on trust for the deceased's estate on the basis that the deceased provided the purchase moneys. This family dispute over the properties arose as the deceased had died intestate. The Minton Rise property was the defendant's matrimonial home until the demise of the deceased and the defendant still resided there. 18 Jalan Tari Payong was purchased by the deceased and defendant as joint tenants, and partly financed by a bank loan.

The plaintiffs argued that as it was the deceased who provided the purchase moneys for the properties, a resulting trust should form over the properties. They further argued that there was no presumption of advancement in the defendant's favour such that the properties were intended as gifts by the deceased to the defendant. They claimed, inter alia,that the deceased was not generous to the defendant and that the properties and bank loans were registered in joint names as the deceased had used the defendant's name for the purpose of extending the length of the loan.

The defendant, however, submitted that the deceased had been estranged from the plaintiffs after the deceased's first marriage ended in divorce and thus, could not have intended to hold properties on trust for them. Secondly, her position was that there was a presumption of advancement as the properties were bought in joint tenancies and the presumption of advancement displaced any presumption of a resulting trust. Lastly, she argued that the right of survivorship in a joint tenancy entitled her to claim the entire legal interest of the properties. The defendant further contended that she contributed financially to the construction of 18 Jalan Tari Payong although she was unable to produce any supporting documents.

Held, giving judgment for the plaintiffs:

(1) There was a resulting trust over the two properties in the proportions of the financial contributions of the deceased and the defendant. It was an age-old principle that if two (or more) persons purchased property in their joint names and there had been no declaration of trusts on which they were to hold the property, they would, as a matter of law, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, hold the property on a resulting trust for the persons who provided the purchase money in the proportions in which they had provided it: at [47], [55] and [62].

(2) The presumption of a resulting trust was not displaced in this case by the presumption of advancement. Singapore courts had moved away from the presumption of advancement on the basis that the presumption of advancement was no longer applicable in modern times unless there was evidence to support the same: at [65].

(3) The presumption of advancement in the context of husband and wife was readily rebutted by comparatively slight evidence. In addition, the presumption of advancement between husband and wife would not apply here as it was a reverse situation - the deceased husband did not work and it was the defendant who worked and was apparently the breadwinner: at [68] and [71].

(4) The existence of a resulting trust overrode the right of survivorship in the joint tenancies of both properties. It was axiomatic that the right of survivorship dictated that the entire property in a joint tenancy belonged to the defendant. However, this would result in the deceased's estate being left with nothing, and that seemed to be unfair and unjust. Case law stated that equity intervened to ensure that although the deceased and defendant remained joint tenants at law, they were actually tenants in common in equity,according to the proportion of their respective financial contributions: at [73].

Judgment reserved.

Lai Siu Chiu J

Introduction

1 This case involved a bitter family dispute. The two plaintiffs, Terence Yeo Guan Chye (“the first plaintiff”) and Theodore Yeo Guan Huat (alias Yeo Guan Huat) (“the second plaintiff”) (collectively referred to as “the plaintiffs”), sued Lau Siew Kim (“the defendant”), who was their stepmother and the third wife/widow of their late father, Tommy Yeo Hock Seng (“the deceased”), claiming that certain properties she held jointly with the deceased, were held on trust for the deceased's estate on the basis that the deceased provided the purchase moneys.

2 The plaintiffs were the sons of the deceased from his first marriage to one Iris Chong Yen Ying (“Iris Chong”), whom the deceased divorced in 1987. The first plaintiff is the younger of the two siblings. The divorce was acrimonious and Iris Chong obtained custody of the plaintiffs who were then aged 13 and 17 years respectively. It was the defendant's case that the deceased was estranged from the plaintiffs after the first marriage ended in divorce and therefore, he could not have intended to have his properties held on trust for them. In the alternative, even if there was a resulting trust, the defendant contended that the presumption of advancement in her favour displaced any presumption of a resulting trust.

Facts

3 The deceased died on 23 November 2004. He had made a will dated 28 January 1992 (“the first will”) in which he named the first plaintiff as his sole beneficiary. Subsequently, the deceased made another will dated 20 May 1996 (“the second will”) to replace the first will. In the second will, he appointed the defendant as the sole executor and named her the sole beneficiary. On 5 July 2005, pursuant to an application by the plaintiffs in Suit No 32 of 2005, the second will was invalidated by the High Court, by reason of the subsequent marriage between the deceased and the defendant on 18 December 2000. Accordingly, the deceased died intestate. The defendant has not to-date applied for letters of administration to the estate of the deceased.

4 At the time of his demise, the deceased held the following four properties:

(a) 35 Fowlie Road, Singapore (“the Fowlie Road property”), which was registered solely in the deceased's name;

(b) 149 Hougang Street 11 #10-136, Minton Rise, Singapore (“Minton Rise”), which was registered in the joint names of the deceased and the defendant on 11 October 2000;

(c) 18 Jalan Tari Payong, Singapore (“18 Jalan Tari Payong”), which was registered in the joint names of the deceased and the defendant; and

(d) 18A Jalan Tari Payong, Singapore (“18A Jalan Tari Payong”), which was registered in the joint names of the deceased and the defendant.

5 As the Fowlie Road property was solely in the deceased's name and 18A Jalan Tari Payong has been sold and its sale proceeds used to discharge bank loans, the two properties are a non-issue. Hence the properties in contention are Minton Rise and 18 Jalan Tari Payong (collectively referred to hereinafter as “the properties”).

6 Before I deal with the issues proper, it would be helpful to set out the financial sources used to acquire the properties. Minton Rise was bought for $495,000, using a loan of $396,000 from Standard Chartered Bank (“Standard Chartered”) and withdrawals from the defendant's Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) savings. The Minton Rise property was the couple's matrimonial home until the demise of the deceased. The defendant still resides there. According to the defendant, she is servicing the monthly mortgage instalments of $2,100 on the Standard Chartered loan, partly through her CPF contributions and partly by cash; she also pays the monthly conservancy charges.

7 As regards 18 Jalan Tari Payong, the deceased purchased it in March 2004 as joint tenants with the defendant for $1.1m. The deceased and the defendant took a loan of $770,000 from United Overseas Bank (“UOB”) repayable over 17 years, to part-finance the purchase.

The issues

8 The question I had to determine was whether the defendant or the deceased's estate was entitled to Minton Rise and 18 Jalan Tari Payong. Before delving into the issues in substance, it would be apposite at this juncture to refer to two interlocutory appeals that arose in the main action.

9 On the first day of trial (20 September 2006), in Summons No 4284 of 2006 (“SUM 4284/2006”), the plaintiffs applied to amend the statement of claim (“SOC”) to identify the correct locations of the properties in dispute. The defendant did not have any objections and I granted leave to the plaintiffs to so amend the SOC.

...

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5 books & journal articles
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