SINGAPORE: Lee Suet Fern was not acting as a lawyer in the preparation of Lee Kuan Yew’s final will, and Mr Lee knew what he wanted, which was to revert to a previous will distributing equal shares of his estate to his children.
This was key to the arguments put forward by Mrs Lee’s lawyers in her defence at a disciplinary tribunal. Her legal team included former Attorney-General and Senior Counsel Walter Woon, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan and a team from Providence Law led by Abraham Vergis.
Mrs Lee, who has been a lawyer for 37 years, was found guilty by the disciplinary tribunal of grossly improper misconduct in her handling of the late Mr Lee’s last will, in findings released last week.
The tribunal ruled that she had failed to advance the interests of Mr Lee, who was her client in the preparation and execution of his final will dated December 2013, and that she failed to advise him to be independently advised.
This was against the backdrop of a situation where Mrs Lee had conflicts of interest, as her husband stood to gain from the will, the tribunal said.
Instead of acting in conflict of interest and in breach of the legal profession, Mrs Lee, the wife of the late founding prime minister’s younger son Lee Hsien Yang, was "merely assisting in a family matter at the request of her husband", argued the defence.
The late Mr Lee "knew exactly what he wanted", to revert to a will he made in 2011 and bequeath equal shares in his estate to his three children: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
The December 2013 will differed from the one before it as it dictated that Mr Lee’s estate would be shared equally among his three children. The will before gave his daughter Dr Lee Wei Ling an extra share.
The will before also did not have any clause on the demolition of the Oxley family home, and said that Dr Lee’s right to stay there was subject to Lee Hsien Loong’s consent, but the December 2013 will gave Dr Lee unfettered right to stay at the Oxley home.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers asserted in written submissions that the Law Society (LawSoc) had not proven its charges against her.
LAW SOCIETY GAVE NO EVIDENCE THAT LEE KUAN YEW WAS LEE SUET FERN'S CLIENT: DEFENCE
“Beyond mere assertion, the Law Society has presented no evidence that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was (Mrs Lee’s) client and that she prepared the December 2013 will,” said the lawyers.
They said it was a clear and reasonable inference from “undisputed facts” that Mrs Lee was neither the late Mr Lee’s solicitor, and nor did she prepare the will in question.
Instead, they argued that Mr Lee was discussing his last will with Ms Kwa Kim Li, who had prepared his wills before this.
“He had decided to revert to the equal division of his estate made in the original 2011 will long before (Mrs Lee) was pulled in,” said the lawyers.
They said Ms Kwa was advising Mr Lee on the terms of his will and was informed before and after the December 2013 will was executed.
When Mr Lee could not contact Ms Kwa, he told his son Hsien Yang to get it done, knowing that Mrs Lee was his wife.
They said that LawSoc's case that Mrs Lee and her husband deliberately cut Ms Kwa out of the process and got Mr Lee Kuan Yew to execute his last will in her absence was "implausible".
MR LEE KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING
"The alternative which the Law Society is putting forward is that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a very brilliant lawyer and world statesman, did not understand his own will despite reading it several times," argued the lawyers.
“All that (Mrs Lee) did was to forward what she thought was the original 2011 will to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and to Ms Kwa for engrossment,” said the lawyers.
“It was Mr Lee Kuan Yew who decided not to wait for Ms Kwa. Significantly, he gave instructions to have the will engrossed and stated that he would sign it 'before a solicitor in Fern’s office or from any other office'," they wrote.
"Mr Lee was content to execute the will before any solicitor. It is clear from this that (Mrs Lee's) role was peripheral. She only got pulled in because it was convenient."
They added that Ms Kwa did not object to the last will, and had 15 months to alert Mr Lee to any issue with it before he died.
The lawyers also pointed out that while Ms Kwa was in LawSoc's list of witnesses, they did not call her in the end.
NO PLAUSIBLE MOTIVE: DEFENCE
They added that reverting to equal shares would have reduced Lee Hsien Yang's share instead of increasing it, and said LawSoc had not suggested any plausible motive for Mrs Lee to change the will.
However, the disciplinary tribunal ruled in favour of LawSoc, which was represented by Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng and lawyers Koh Swee Yen and Eugene Oh.
With the guilty finding, the case has been referred to the Court of Three Judges, which will hear the matter at a later date.
The highest disciplinary body for misconduct by lawyers could fine Mrs Lee, suspend her or disbar her.