If you are Chinese or have lived in Hong Kong, you have probably heard about Teddy and Nina Wang and their multiple legal battles over the different wills. If you love drama, this plot twist is worthy as the next Netflix blockbuster!
Teddy was a Chinese businessman and founder of the Chinachem Group who was kidnapped for ransom in 1990, and later declared legally dead. Nina paid an installment of HK$34million but Teddy was not returned. Several of the alleged kidnappers were caught and claimed Teddy had been thrown into the sea but the body was never found.
A 1990 homemade Will (dated a month before Teddy's abduction) ceded the entire estate to Nina and included the phrase "one life, one love" in English, with the rest of the Will in Chinese, stating that the rest of Wang family was disappointing, hence no financial or property interest can go to anyone from his family. The Will was in a sealed envelope, had a signature indicating the family butler as the witness and a second attesting witness whose name was not fully legible.
Teddy's father, Wang Din-shin, asked the courts to accept Teddy's 1968 will that made him the sole heir to his son's estate. The 1968 Will was typed in English and prepared by solicitors, signed by Teddy and witnessed by two partners. It was also kept in a safe deposit box in the Bank.
In 2002, the High Court declared the 1990 will a forgery and in Janary 2005, Nina was formally charged with forgery and freed on bail. In September 2005, the Court of Final Appeal overturned the previous High Court ruling, giving control of the multibillion dollar Chinachem firm back to Nina. In December 2005, prosecutors in the fraud case officially dropped all charges, effectively exonerating Nina.
Nina so became Asia's richest woman, with an estimated net worth of US$4.2 billion at the time of her death in 2007.
Tony Chan was Nina's personal Fung Shui master and later alleged lover. After Nina's death, Tony claimed he was the sole beneficiary of her estate and contacted Nina's family members through his lawyer after her death, stating that he had in his possession a document purported to be Nina's last Will, made in October 2006. This was contested by the Chinachem Charitable Foundation Limited - a charitable organization set up by Nina and Teddy in 1998 - that it was to inherit Nina's entire estate, as per a year 2002 Will. The Foundation contended that the 2006 Will was a forgery.
Eventually, the Court held that the 2006 Will had been forged by Tony. The 2002 Will was upheld, leaving Nina's estate to the Foundation. Tony was also convicted of two counts of fraud and sentenced to spend 12 years in jail.
Now that you are fully caught up with one of the biggest Hong Kong will disputes, there are many learning points here. Mostly, when there are numerous versions of a will, there will be disputes as to which version is the legitimate one. Sometimes, a previous version may even be used to contest the latest version, especially if the previous version is stored and registered. Registering your latest Will is equally important as writing it. This will facilitate the legal dispute on the legitimacy, if it were to come to that.
Writing a Will and updating your Will regularly is the very first step, and it’s an important one. But more importantly, you should register your updated Will and store it in a safe place. liteWill lets you register your Will and store an electronic copy of your Will. Otherwise, all the good work that you have done becomes irrelevant if your person of confidence is not able to find your Will in a timely manner. ‘A Will that is not registered is like a Will that does not exist’.
This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.
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