SINGAPORE: A taxi driver who bought a flat in Tampines applied for joint tenancy with his China national wife after she attained permanent residency in Singapore.
After he died, his sister turned to the court seeking shares of the flat that would otherwise go solely to her brother’s widow.
In a judgment published on Tuesday (May 2), Justice Mavis Chionh dismissed the sister’s bid entirely. She ruled that the widow owned the flat absolutely, and that her sister-in-law is to return to her all keys to the flat.
The taxi driver, Mr Ho Fook Tuck, bought the Housing Board flat at 458 Tampines Street 42 in his sole name in 1988.
Several of his family members stayed with him in the flat at various points, including his mother until her death, his estranged father for a brief period before his death, and two sisters. One of them later moved out when she got married, but another sister continued to live with him and had issues with his wife.
In July 2009, Fook Tuck met China national Ms Wang Kai Qing, when she visited Singapore for a holiday. He was 48 and she was 10 years his junior.
The couple got married in China in 2010. According to Ms Wang, Fook Tuck told her after they got married that his younger sister had lived with him in the flat for many years, and that she appeared to prefer living there rent-free despite having S$300,000 in her bank account post-retirement.
According to his wife, Fook Tuck did not know how to tell his younger sister to leave. Fook Tuck also purportedly told his wife that his sister had a temper and often “bullied” him, such as by refusing to let him use the washing machine.
Fook Tuck was concerned that his sister would also bully his new wife if the latter moved in, and arranged for them to live elsewhere, renting a room for this purpose.
According to Ms Wang, Fook Tuck would stay with her in their rented room but return to the Tampines flat to sleep at night so he did not disturb his wife’s sleep when he woke up for his graveyard shift as a cabby.
If they did go to the Tampines flat, they did so quietly so as not to disturb Fook Tuck’s younger sister, who had a habit of sleeping in the day. If they ran into her, she was openly hostile to Ms Wang, the latter said.
Fook Tuck gave his wife about S$1,500 every month for rental and living expenses. He found her a job as a waitress at first, but later enrolled her in a business administration course, paid her tuition fees and ferried her to school until she graduated in 2012.
In 2014, Ms Wang successfully became a Singapore Permanent Resident after her husband made an application on her behalf. He also found a job for her as a masseuse and drove her to work every day.
HE ADDED HER NAME TO THE FLAT
Two months after Ms Wang became a permanent resident, Fook Tuck told her that she could now own a HDB flat and that he would be adding her name to the Tampines flat.
He took her to an HDB branch office and listened to the officer explaining that since they had chosen “joint name holding”, whoever of the two of them was still alive would get the flat automatically.
Fook Tuck told his wife that the flat was fully paid for and that she had nothing to worry about. He said that if anything happened to him, she could stay in the flat or sell it and retire to China if she wished.
In 2015, Fook Tuck decided to get a divorce in China so they could get married in Singapore after hearing from a friend that their marriage in China was not valid in Singapore.
They registered their divorce in China in June 2015 and went to Singapore’s Registry of Marriages a month later, completing the online application for a Notice of Marriage. They also bought wedding rings and formal clothes.
However, they did not go through with the solemnisation as Fook Tuck heard a claim from a friend that Singapore records would show they were husband and wife since the divorce in China had not been registered in Singapore.
Ms Wang said that married life with her husband did not change after the on-paper divorce in China.
In October 2015, Fook Tuck’s younger sister brought her boyfriend to live with her in the Tampines flat.
Fook Tuck was displeased and told his wife that it was time for his sister to leave the flat. Ms Wang said that the sister, perhaps embarrassed about her live-in boyfriend, told Fook Tuck that he could take Ms Wang home to live in the flat.
Around this time, Fook Tuck and his wife began making plans to rent out the bedroom that had been occupied by his late father. However, his sister insisted that any tenant would have to use the master bedroom toilet that was used by Fook Tuck and his wife.
Upset that the sister was making things difficult for them, Ms Wang refused to move into the Tampines flat. Fook Tuck was upset and angry and suggested that he get his elder brother’s help to sell the flat so that he and his wife could move into a smaller flat.
However, his plans to sell the flat did not materialise, as he became ill. He did not want his wife to accompany him for check-ups, telling her that “everything was fine”.
He continued to work despite his illness and died in September 2016. His wife found out about his death when he did not meet her as usual that day.
She claimed that she wanted to rush down to hospital, but was told to go to the funeral home the next day instead.
AFTER HIS DEATH
After Fook Tuck was cremated, the claimant, his eldest sister Ho Woon Chun, told Ms Wang that she would be putting a stop to Fook Tuck’s Central Provident Fund payments for Ms Wang’s hospital insurance premiums.
After the funeral, Ms Wang returned to China to grieve. When she returned to Singapore, she buried herself in work to cope with her grief.
According to Ms Wang, Woon Chun never informed her about a notice from HDB about the Home Improvement Program, nor about an application for letters of administration for Fook Tuck’s estate.
Instead, Woon Chun’s lawyers contacted Ms Wang in an attempt to get Ms Wang to sign a declaration about the flat. In June 2022, Ms Wang received another letter from Woon Chun’s lawyers.
In the letter, Woon Chun said she took the position, as legal representative of the estate, that the Tampines flat belonged to the estate and that Ms Wang was holding the flat “on trust” for the estate. Ms Wang was to take “immediate steps” to transfer the flat to the estate, the letter read.
In cross-examination, Ms Wang testified that she did not dare to visit the flat after her husband died as she was afraid of his “very fierce” younger sister.
She also said that she did not want to go to court to chase the sister out of the flat, as the latter was still family and that her husband had not tried to chase her out when he was alive.
THE ELDEST SISTER’S CASE
Woon Chun said that her brother had paid for the flat and maintained it, and that Ms Wang did not visit the flat after Fook Tuck died nor broach the topic of the flat at any time.
Woon Chun said her brother’s marriage was “a short marriage of five years which produced no children”, with no family member attending the wedding or knowing about it.
She said Ms Wang did not have a close relationship with any of the siblings, attending only one family gathering during Chinese New Year in 2011, when the siblings learnt of the marriage.
Woon Chun contended that it was a “sham marriage”, and the younger sister who lived in the flat claimed that Fook Tuck and his wife would never close the door of the room when they were at the flat.
Woon Chun also said she was the one who took her brother to his medical appointments, and that the siblings made all arrangements for his wake and funeral while Ms Wang was the last to find out about his passing.
She claimed that her brother always intended to retain the entire beneficial interest in the flat for himself, even when he added his wife as joint tenant.
Therefore, Ms Wang holds the entire beneficial interest in the flat on behalf of the estate.
In the alternative, she asked for the flat to be split five ways – among the four siblings and Ms Wang.
But Justice Chionh found that Woon Chun did not have “sufficient and compelling evidence” for her case.
“It appears to me highly improbable that the deceased would have decided his siblings should each get 20 per cent of the flat without bothering to tell any of the siblings,” she said.
She found that the couple had been in a genuinely loving relationship and affirmed that the flat was to go wholly to Ms Wang.
She ordered Woon Chun to return the original lease as well as all keys to the flat.