The sensational murder of a Hong Kong socialite Abby Choi Tin-Fung (“Abby”) has made headlines across the world for the gruesome nature of the case. The motive for the murder was related to a financial dispute over a house Abby has bought to accommodate her former husband and his family members. We will be discussing the background of this grisly case as well as what will happen to Abby’s estate.
Abby was a socialite, born into wealth where her family runs a successful construction business in mainland China. She was worth billions and had four children, two of whom were from her previous marriage with ex-husband Alex Kwong. After her divorce, she met her current husband Chris and they had a pair of children but the both did not register their marriage. Despite the separation with Kwong, Abby still took care of Kwong’s family and was said to have given more then 10 million HKD in financial assistance to the family over the years. Abby had even bought a four-bedroom property (“the property”) located in an upscale area to accommodate Kwong’s family and the property will soon be the point of contention for Abby and Kwong’s family.
In order to avoid paying a hefty sum on stamp duty, Abby registered the property under her ex-father-in-law’s name for Kwong’s family to live for free. Down the line, Abby thought about selling the property, purely as an investment move, and moving the Kwong’s family elsewhere but a dispute had allegedly broke out over Abby’s intention to sell the property. A close friend of Abby said her ex-father-in-law was allegedly threatening her, saying “if you dare to sell it, I will Kill you,” he was said to have made the threat against Abby after learning that she has brought someone to view the property.
Abby was reported missing shortly, when she went to pick up her daughter. On the day when Abby went missing, she was last seen being picked up by her ex-brother-in-law who worked as her chauffeur. Four days after she was reported missing, her body was found brutally murdered and dismembered in a Tai Po village house rented by the ex-father-in-law. Parts of her dismembered body were found in two large soup pots while her legs were found in the fridge. Police said the murder was premeditated and “well planned”. The authorities found meat grinder, electric saw, meat cleavers, hammer, face shields and black raincoats at the crime scene.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-Hung (“Luk”) has commented on the case and according to him, the ex-father-in-law will not receive Abby’s estate as both him and his eldest son (Abby’s chauffeur) were charged with the murder of Abby on suspicion of the dispute over the property.
“If a deceased person passes away suddenly and leaves no Will in place to distribute her property, the property will be distributed according to a list of beneficiaries in order of priority in which the order of precedence would be her spouse, children, parents, siblings, and other dependents. The beneficiaries are required to declare themselves for the list,” said Luk.
“Since the deceased, Choi (Abby) and her current husband (Chris) were not registered for marriage, the current spouse cannot inherit the estate legally.”
Luk also noted that Kwong’s family members will be removed from as beneficiaries for being the suspects of her murder, illegally acquiring her estate. He added that Abbby’s ex-father-in-law would not acquire the apartment under a judge’s ruling if “it could be proved that it was the deceased who bought the house and paid all the associated taxes and management fees.”
APPLYING THE CASE FACTS IN MALAYSIA
Similarly, if Abby’s family can prove that it was Abby who had paid for the property entirely without any contribution from Kwong and his family and provide evidence of Abby only used her ex-father-in-law’s name to purchase the property under a trust, then the beneficiaries under the Distribution Act can inherit the property. However, they aren’t able to provide such evidence, then the property could very well belong to her ex-father-in-law.
Generally, the legal beneficiaries under the Distribution Act are the spouse, parents and children. As for who would be the legal beneficiaries of Abby’s estate, it would be her parents and her 4 children. Abby and Kwong divorced so he wouldn’t be considered a spouse, while Abby had never registered her marriage with her current husband Chris. Therefore, in accordance with Malaysian Distribution Act, Abby’s parents and four of her children would be the legal beneficiaries to her estate, with the parents receiving 1/3 share and the four children splitting the remaining 2/3 share equally.
What happened to Abby was tragic, we can all empathise with her family especially with four of her children. Will writing is still a relatively taboo topic in Malaysia because of its association with death. Nevertheless, a Will is extremely important to ensure that your property and assets are distributed according to your wishes, to specific persons you would like to bequeath to rather than it being determined by Malaysia’s inheritance laws.