Woman fails to block probate in bid to get back $762k

A woman who tried to block a probate grant in a bid to claw back an alleged $762,000 investment has been rebutted by the High Court in the first known case of its kind here.

Ms Nie Jianmin said that acting on her husband's advice, she lent the money to banker and fund manager Tan See Wee last December. However, Mr Tan died aged 47 in March, having named his wife Grace Khor in his will as the sole executor and trustee of his estate.

Eight days later, Ms Nie lodged a caveat against the grant of probate to Ms Khor. Ms Nie claimed she lent the deceased the money on her husband's assurance that he would repay it.

Ms Khor countered that the money was not a loan but an investment by Ms Nie's husband Tan Chau Chuang in a project involving Tri Viet Media Corporation, a Vietnamese media firm.

She applied for the caveat to be removed to enable the court to grant the probate.

It is understood that the court's go-ahead for the probate would enable Ms Khor to determine the extent of her husband's estate - including the involvement in Vietnam.

Her lawyer, Ling Tien Wah, argued that the court is not empowered to recognise or order Ms Nie's debt to be settled from the estate when probate had yet to be granted.

Ms Nie, defended by lawyer Francis Goh, countered that all she wanted was her money back and she had no issues with Ms Khor's appointment as executor.

But in the first such reported case in Singapore, the High Court made clear it had no powers to recognise her alleged debt claim - or order the sum to be repaid from the deceased's estate under the Probate and Administration Act.

Justice Tan Siong Thye, in judgment grounds released last week, said the relevant clause for a valid caveat can be invoked only if the claimant is a beneficiary or challenges a person's right to be an executor under the will.

Citing cases from England, Australia and Hong Kong, he held that loans or investments do not give rise to caveat interests under probate laws.

"In fact, creditors who have lodged caveats have been criticised as abusing the caveat process. I agree."

Ms Nie has a right to bring a loan claim against the estate but, he said, based on evidence before the court, it was "more likely" that the $762,000 was an investment rather than a loan".

The judge refused her application for the money to be returned.

Lawyers say the judgment is a landmark because the court explained the circumstances in which a person can lodge a caveat against the grant of probate.

This article was first published on October 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.