Blind widow, 84, recovers nearly $1.37m after suing her two younger children
A blind woman, 84, successfully sued two of her children to recover nearly $1.37 million owed from the rental and sale of her late husband’s shophouse.
On Oct 31, the High Court dismissed claims by her younger daughter S. Geetha Subramaniam and only son S. Mogan that their mother had gifted them $1.36 million of the proceeds, reprimanding them for their conduct in obtaining her signature for a gift document that no one else knew about except her son’s friend who handled the sale of the property.
The children, who were co-administrators of their father’s estate with their older sister, said they paid the remainder of the sum owed — about $6,400 — in cash to their mother Thamby Kannu Parvathi but could not recall the exact circumstances or details of the payment.
Ruling in favour of the widow, Senior Judge Lai Siu Chiu said the pair exploited their mother’s blindness and advanced age.
The gift document was invalid as their mother was not aware she had given away her half of the Little India shophouse when she signed the document, the court held.
The shophouse, in Dunlop Road, was among several properties left by Madam Thamby’s husband Subramaniam Govindasamy when he died in 2013.
The properties included four shophouses along Martaban Road in Balestier. Currently, Madam Thamby lives with the daughter of her estranged eldest daughter in one of these houses, while Ms Geetha and Mr Mogan separately occupy another two of these houses.
As the Little India shophouse had not been covered by Mr Subramaniam’s will, which had been prepared by Ms Geetha, his widow was entitled to half a share under the Intestate Succession Act.
In 2016, the property was sold for more than $2.6 million, with the sale completed on April 7, 2017 and the proceeds to be divided among the children and their mother.
A few days later, the widow signed the gift document – prepared by Ms Geetha – that stated that $1.36 million of her share of the sale proceeds would go to Ms Geetha and Mr Mogan.
Madam Thamby testified that in 2017 she asked Ms Geetha for her share of the sale proceeds, and again in 2018 or 2019.
When the widow was told by her younger daughter that she did not have a share in the sale proceeds, she approached her elder daughter in or around 2019 who told her mother that she should have received half of the sale proceeds, and took her to a lawyer.
After consulting her current lawyers, the widow took legal action against her two younger children, with her solicitors issuing a letter of demand dated Oct 18, 2019.
The siblings argued that after signing the gift document in 2017, Madam Thamby did nothing to dispute it for over two years, which was an indication that she intended to give away her share of the proceeds.
The judge disagreed with their reasoning, noting that while their mother could live independently, she needed help to venture out of her home, to find a lawyer and be taken to see them.
She determined it was highly unlikely that the widow had even been given a copy of the gift document the day after she signed it as Mr Mogan claimed.
Labelling the pair as “wholly unreliable”, the judge cited how the siblings claimed that the sale of the Dunlop Street property was first mooted on Oct 29, 2016, but this was contradicted by the agency agreement to sell the shophouse that Ms Geetha and Mr Mogan signed on Oct 1, 2016.
The property agent handling the sale, a friend of Mr Mogan’s, should not have witnessed the signing as he was not an independent third party who could be objective, the judge said.
He also confirmed that he did not read or know the contents of the gift document.
The contents of the gift document were incorrect and/or false, the judge said, adding that among other things, no evidence was produced to show that the siblings had taken care of their parents before their father’s death.
Said Justice Lai: “Even if the defendants and Geetha in particular took care of the deceased while he was alive, why should the plaintiff have to thank them on his behalf by forgoing her inheritance?
“The defendants seem to have put a very substantial price on their filial piety to their late father and to their surviving mother.”
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