Lasting Power of Attorney system adequate? Ha ha

I refer to the 8 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Lasting Power of Attorney system has adequate safeguards” and the 9 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Another LPA storm brews over a rich person’s assets”.

One day after Minister Chan Chun Sing declared that our LPA system has adequate safeguards, another contentious LPA case emerges.

Ms Sylvia Lim’s suggestion to reinstate the option to inform others of an LPA application doesn’t contradict Mr Chan’s concern that “not everyone wants to inform certain family members of their decision.” If a person doesn’t want to inform certain family members, he can simply uncheck the option to inform others. Better still, the applicant should simply be allowed to list the names and NRIC of those he wants to inform in the LPA application. In that way, those whom the applicant doesn’t want to inform won’t be informed while those whom the applicant wants to inform will be informed.

Saying it is up to the certificate issuer to do the job professionally doesn’t solve the problem if there is an inherent weakness in the system that has nothing to do with the professionalism of the certificate issuer. If the medical practitioner or psychiatrist okays the LPA application, what professional reason has the certificate issuer got to say no?

The recent LPA commotion involving Madam Chung has shown that a medical practitioner’s or psychiatrist’s assessment may not be sufficient to validate an LPA application as the independence of the medical or psychiatrist assessment can be easily doubted later on by the authorities. If the whole basis of the LPA which is the medical or psychiatrist assessment can be so easily doubted later on, doesn’t it show that the fundamental basis of the LPA is actually quite weak?

Given that our LPA system is only four years old, it should not be deemed as being cast in stone but should be refined as problems surface along the way. Ms Lim has provided some good suggestions but our minister conveniently brushed them off, ignored obvious issues and refused to resolve them. This reminds us of the period between 2007 and 2011 when the people constantly highlighted the problem of runaway property prices but the PAP just kept turning a blind eye until they were told in no uncertain terms through the ballot box.

To avoid the system becoming overly onerous, additional checks can be confined to LPA cases that do not conform to a predefined set of guidelines or that which confound common sense and experience. For example, it would be unusual for someone to appoint an unrelated person whom he or she has known for less than 5 years as the LPA. This should raise a red flag and prompt for more investigations to ascertain the validity of the application. This is consistent with the principles of both law and accountancy to always err on the side of caution.

Mr Chan should list the countries that have less onerous LPA systems than ours. The last thing we want is to compare with Uganda or Afghanistan.

Straits Times, Lasting Power of Attorney system has adequate safeguards, 8 Oct 2014

WHETHER a person informs family when setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a personal choice, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing told Parliament yesterday, stressing that the scheme has adequate safeguards.

He was responding to questions from Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim on the scheme, which allows a person aged at least 21 to appoint another to make key decisions on his welfare and finances should he lose the mental capacity to do so.

Ms Lim, a lawyer, asked why an option to inform others when applying for an LPA was removed from the form last month, and whether the ministry would look at bringing it back.

Mr Chan replied that it was removed after feedback from applicants, who could still, on their own, decide to share the information. “Not everyone wants to inform certain family members of their decision and that is the dilemma. We leave it to the best judgment of the individual to inform the person that he wants to inform.”

The LPA system, which was launched four years ago, has come under scrutiny after a former China tour guide was accused of manipulating an 87-year-old Singaporean widow into giving him control over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

The widow, Madam Chung Khin Chun, applied for the LPA naming 40-year-old Yang Yin as her donee in 2012. Her niece, tour agency owner Hedy Mok, found this out only earlier this year. She then started legal action against Mr Yang, alleging that he took advantage of her aunt, who was diagnosed with dementia this year.

An LPA is issued only after a lawyer, medical practitioner or psychiatrist witnesses and certifies the application.

Yesterday, Ms Lim asked if the Government would consider an “additional check” by these professionals to ensure that the applicant is not unduly influenced. She highlighted that in Scotland, they would have to decide on the applicant’s independence, based either on personal knowledge or by consulting someone else.

Mr Chan said this would be up to the certificate issuer who, regardless, is expected to do the job professionally. “I can appreciate that sometimes a second pair of eyes does help but we must always be careful not to overly burden the system,” he explained, stressing that applicants should consider who they wish to appoint as donees carefully. He pointed out that the system here is “much more onerous” than in other countries, where in some instances a person does not need a professional to certify the LPA.

Straits Times, Another LPA storm brews over a rich person’s assets, 9 Oct 2014

ANOTHER wealthy elderly person said to be suffering from dementia. Another Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA). Another lawsuit.

But this time, the person in the eye of the storm is not a previously unknown tour guide, but someone who has made headlines before.

Madam Kay Swee Pin was in the news some years back for suing the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC) after it suspended her for lying that she was married to Mr Ng Kong Yeam, a former boss of SA Tours.

Now Madam Kay, 62, is caught up in a new legal tussle over allegations that she forged the signature of Mr Ng, 75, in 2011 to obtain a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to manage his affairs. Mr Ng has dementia.

Mr Ng’s son, Mr Gabriel Ng, said in court documents he had found transfers of his father’s assets to Madam Kay – including the transfer to her of all his shares in Natwest Holdings, a 99 per cent shareholder of SA Tours – “highly suspicious”.

“Natwest was estimated to be worth between $15 million and $20 million at the time of the transfer. It is surprising that all but one share would be sold to Madam Kay for a mere $1 million,” Mr Gabriel Ng said.

The older Mr Ng, a former lawyer, is at the centre of a family feud over management of his personal welfare and financial assets – including SA Tours in Singapore and Malaysia – estimated to be worth up to $30 million. The dispute involves Mr Ng’s legal wife, Datin Ling Towi Sing, their three children, including Gabriel Ng; and Madam Kay, managing director of SA Tours, and their daughter, Eva Mae, its marketing manager.

At issue is an LPA that Madam Kay obtained on Dec 28, 2011 by allegedly forging Mr Ng’s signature to launch legal proceedings, on Mr Ng’s behalf, against his legal wife and children, and others.

An LPA is a legal document allowing a person to appoint another to make key decisions should he lose mental capacity.

It has been in the news after a former tour guide from China was accused of manipulating an 87-year-old Singaporean widow into giving him control over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

In Mr Gabriel Ng’s application to revoke the LPA, and for his family to be appointed deputies to manage his father’s affairs, he argues his father did not execute the LPA personally.

He also argues statutory requirements were not met as his father did not personally attest to the statements in the LPA.

Mr Gabriel Ng claims there were two attempts by Madam Kay to execute the LPA. He says that, relying on a purported letter of authority, she allegedly forged Mr Ng’s signature.

But Madam Kay, in court documents, denied the allegations of forgery, saying she had signed Mr Ng’s name because he “was irritated with her for informing him that he had to sign the forms again”, and because he had “given (her) authority to do so”. But she said she was “unable to find” the original letter of authorisation.

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