One Wife and Three Breakfasts

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A rich businessman named Thong has been married to his wife, Trisha since 1970 in the traditional Chinese way. They have three children who are now aged 33, 35 and 37. He then married again, Jessica, in 1983 and has 2 children now aged 23 and 25. Subsequently, in 2002, he took Evon as his third wife who bore him a child who is now aged 8. Thong always begins his day by having his breakfast with Trisha first and then moves on to Jessica’s house for his second breakfast. Thereafter, he will end his breakfast in Evon’s house. The three women are not on good terms. His daily routine with all these breakfasts has made him obese and his health is affected. Recently, when asked by a close friend if he has planned for his family in terms of wealth distribution should he pass away, his reply was this never crossed his mind. He now feels that it is time to quickly take action on it. But the question is would a will be sufficient for his predicament?

In the case of Thong, one has to determine who the legal wife is. Since Thong married Trisha in 1970, Trisha is considered the legal wife because under the Malaysian law for non-Muslims, traditional marriages before March 1, 1982 are recognised and the woman is the legal wife. Therefore in Thong’s case, any marriage after March 1, 1982 is void which means that Jessica and Evon are not considered legal wives. That being the case, Jessica, Evon and their children shall have no right of succession or inheritance to Thong’s estate if Thong passes away without a will or a trust.

First Thong will have to list down his movable and immovable assets. With that in place, he can then specify in detail in his will for the distribution to his first family. Then it is best that he specifies the other assets to be transferred or assigned to two separate Private Trusts for the second and third family. The first most important matter Thong has to do is to appoint Executors and Trustee for his will and trust. Due to the poor relationship between the women, it is crucial that Thong appoints a Trustee Company like Rockwills Trustee Bhd. to be the Executors and Trustee for his Estate. This is because Rockwills Trustee Bhd. ensures expertise in this field of work, impartiality, professionalism and perpetual existence. If individuals from any one of the families are chosen to be Executors and Trustee then it can raise questions of impartiality and trustworthiness. In addition, the problem can turn ugly if members of one family are appointed as Executors/Trustee and members of another family are holding the Death Certificate because the original Death Certificate is the first key to unlocking Thong’s entire estate.

Appointment of guardian for children over 21 years is not required but essential for the child who is 8 years old if Thong and Evon were to pass away together. In setting up the Private Trust for the second and third family, Thong is named the “Settlor”. He appoints Rockwills Trustee Bhd. as the “Trustee” and a family member to be the “Protector”. A “Protector” acts as the watchdog on the Trustee. Then he has to name all his respective “Beneficiaries”. All these key players will be stated together with the instructions and conditions of distribution to the beneficiaries in a legal document called the “Trust Deed”.

Peter Lee is an Associate Estate Planning Practitioner (Wills & Trust) with Rockwills International Group. He is also an Islamic Estate Planner providing Wills & Trust services for Muslims. He is based in Ipoh and can be reached at: 012-5078825/05-2554853 or excelsec@streamyx.com.