Death is part and parcel of life.
However, sometimes, unexpected deaths could cause chaos for the loved ones staying behind, especially those who did not prepare wills to distribute and divide assets beforehand.
Such a mess will worsen if the living family members have estranged relationships. This was the case for Mr Jaganathan Rajendran, who passed away unexpectedly in a traffic accident.
His remaining asset, an HDB flat in Tanjong Pagar, was contested by his mother, Madam Rasalingam Letchumee and son, Mr Shankar Rajendran.
As there was no will left behind by Mr Rajendran, according to the Intestate Succession Act, the remaining child will likely inherit the HDB flat.
After Mr Rajendran’s tragic passing in July 2019, Madam Letchumee filed a claim in April 2021 to seek ownership of the Tanjong Pagar HDB flat.
However, upon realising her intentions to seek ownership of the flat, Mr Shankar filed a counterclaim against his grandmother. He sought an injunction against her from seeking ownership of the flat and attempting to withdraw S$181,681.01 from his late father’s bank accounts.
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Madam Letchumee lived with him and her daughters in this flat after his divorce from his wife in 2004.
Mr Rajendran was the sole owner of the HDB flat. His ex-wife transferred her interest in the flat to him shortly after the divorce was finalised.
Mr Rajendran and his ex-wife had Mr Shankar, his only son, back in 1996. However, after the divorce, it seemed that Mr Rajendran and Mr Shankar were on a no-contact basis as the son did not find out about his death until August 2019, when his relatives only informed him through Mr Rajendran’s obituary notice.
Madam Letchumee sought action on the premise of proprietary estoppel against Mr Shankar. This means that Madam Letchumee wants ownership of the flat as she is detrimentally relying on it for her livelihood.
However, this was contested by Mr Shankar.
They then took the case to High Court, which was heard by Judge Lee Seiu Kin on 30 December 2022.
Initially, Madam Letchumee was represented by Mr Charles Yeo, who absconded to the United Kingdom earlier this year to seek political asylum over his six criminal charges in Singapore. He effectively abandoned her case amidst court proceedings.
Imagine one day you wake up to find out your lawyer has fled the country, vowing never to return. The shock the poor woman probably went through.
Mr Rajwin Singh Sandhu from S K Kumar Law Practice represented her after Yeo left the country.
Mr Shankar was the Defendant in this Court case, represented by Wang Liansheng and Valerie Goh from Bih Li & Lee LLP.
Mr Sandhu, fighting for Plaintiff Madam Letchumee, argued that Mr Rajendran, more likely than not, have made representations in her favour about the HDB flat going to her if anything was to happen to him. After his divorce, Madam Letchumee offered much support for him and took care of him and the flat till now.
He argued that Madam Letchumee is detrimentally relying on the flat for her livelihood, as she lived in the apartment for many years alongside her other daughters.
He also claimed that the Plaintiff had spent about $25,000 on renovations and repair work for the house, which would be a massive loss to her if she lost the potential ownership of the flat.
The Defendant’s counsel argued that Madam Letchumee exhibited no detrimental reliance on the part of Plaintiff. What she did for Mr Rajendran was out of love and care for her child, like all mothers would do for their children, especially going through a process like a divorce. This reminds me of a Chinese folk song. Are all mothers the same?
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Judge Lee ruled in favour of the Defendant. This means that Madam Letchumee had lost her claim.
She lost the case because her counsel failed to demonstrate how there was detrimental reliance on her part if she were not to get ownership of the HDB flat.
As she has another son living in another flat in Jurong East, she can move there and stay with her other son. It was not as if she would be left without a home if this flat went to Mr Shankar.
Furthermore, there was not enough evidence supporting the $25,000 renovation works claim by the Plaintiff’s counsel.
To conclude the judgment, Mr Shankar remains the sole beneficial owner of the Tanjong Pagar HDB flat.
However, it was not all too gloomy for Madam Letchumee as well.
She is entitled by the Court to withdraw the $181,681.01 from her son’s bank accounts as there is no evidence that Mr Shankar’s father opposes this. It was done according to his express wishes, even if she only withdrew the money after his death.
It seems like both the grandma and grandson gained to earn something from this fiasco.
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