Marriage Neither Made In Heaven Nor In Law

From a distance, she had watched.

It pained Chen, recalling that the last farewell to Kong, the man she loved and the father of her son, had to be in such an undignified manner — out of sight from the other mourners and those who had come to pay their last respects.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as Chen recalled how “the other woman”, Ivy, and her daughter had barred mother and son, Huat, from being at the wake. Kong’s second wife had screamed at them, hurling abuses that they were there for Kong’s money.

“You’ll not get a single sen,” she raised her tone, chasing them out of the funeral parlour.

It was heart-breaking that as the first wife, she was treated with such contempt.
Prior to Kong’s death, Chen and Huat had to sneak into the hospital to see him while her brother-in-law kept watch just in case the second wife turned up. That was the last time they saw him. He couldn’t speak already and was fading away.

Kong had probably figured that that would be how things would turn out for his first wife and first born. Kong, who had secretly been making regular visits and providing for them financially, had also passed a message through his brother before he lost his speech that it was alright if both mother and son were denied performing the last rites for him.

“Just leave things be. I’m sorry.” Those were the last words for them.

Now a year later, much to Chen’s surprise, Ivy was at the door of her house. The moment she saw Chen, Ivy sobbed and pleaded with her not to evict her and her daughter from their house. In very soft tones, barely audible, she said she felt great remorse for her past actions…

The tables had turned. Chen now had the upper hand as, with the advice and help from her brother-in-law, she had applied for the Letter of Administration knowing that Kong did not have a will.

She had married Kong in 1979 in a Chinese customary marriage and did not register with the Registry of Civil Marriages. Kong also married Ivy in a Chinese customary marriage in 1985 and also did not register their marriage.

Non-Muslim traditional marriages before 1 March 1982 need not be registered at the Registry of Civil Marriages and would be considered legitimate in the eyes of the law. However, all marriages not registered after that date would not be considered legal.

Chen therefore was the legal wife but not Ivy. As Kong had died intestate, i.e. without a will, the distribution of the estate will be in accordance with the Distribution Act 1958 (amended 1997) in which the estate will go to the surviving legitimate spouse and the surviving children if there are no surviving parents.

In such an instance, Chen and Huat owns 100 per cent of the house that Ivy and her daughter is occupying because the second marriage is not legally recognised. This means Ivy and her daughter can be evicted from the house.

Would this be how Kong would wish to distribute his assets? Kong, had he had a will, would have been in better control of the situation and would have been able to avert the ugly scene of the second wife chasing away the first wife.

A will stipulating his wishes would therefore be highly advantageous to overcome the unintended consequences of intestacy and avoid.

 


This article is contributed by Rockwills Trustee Berhad, a licensed Trust Company which specialises in Estate Planning. For more information, please go to www.rockwills.com.

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