The Nina Wang case captivated Asia in much the same way the Brooke Astor case made headlines in New York last year. Only, instead of questions surrounding whether a multi-millionaire’s will was invalid, the Nina Wang case involved whether Tony Chan Chun-chuen forged the will of Asia’s richest woman, to the tune of about thirteen billion dollars, according to some estimates. She died at age 69 in 2007.
The case raged for months, and The Probate Lawyer Blog featured several articles about it. The Hong Kong judge carefully deliberated since closing arguments took place in late September. Earlier today, the High Court released the 326-page ruling that declared Wang’s 2006 will to be a forgery.
Tony Chan contended that Wang had left him her fortune because, rather than being a mere feng shui adviser for her, he was also her secret lover. Of course, he was married during the affair. And he was 20 years younger than she was.
Lawyers for the Wang family and charities (the vast majority of her fortune from the prior will, in 2002, was earmarked for charity), said Chan forged the new will. They also claimed, alternatively, that Chan had tricked her into signing it by declaring it to be a “feng shui will” that he was supposed to destroy as part of a ceremony to help extend her life.
If you’re interested, you can read the Court’s decision here (don’t worry, the helpful Hong Kong Court also provided a much shorter summary of the long legal document which is also available through the same link). Here are the highlights:
Nina Wang did have an intimate relationship with Tony Chan, but she wanted to keep it a secret. Despite giving him lavish gifts and payments of money, she didn’t want to give him her entire fortune.
Rather, she held true to her wishes in the 2002 will, leaving most of her wealth to charity.
Wang did, in fact, sign a new document in 2006. But it wasn’t the will Tony Chan said it was. No — that one was forged . . . through a “highly skilled simulation”. Instead, Wang signed a Specific Bequest Will leaving Chan $10 million (poor guy).
The Judge didn’t find Chan believable — pointing to his criminal past, among other reasons. Chan lied and withheld relevant information from the Court, the Judge said. And, the 2006 will was written in English, not Chinese like the 2002 will.
The judge also said he didn’t believe Chan’s wife either, who also offered testimony to support the validity of the 2006 will.
Chan’s lawyer already promised an appeal. But, Chan has other concerns in the meantime. Chan may be referred for criminal prosecution based on the finding of forgery. And he won’t even have the $10 million from the “Specific Bequest Will”. That partial will wasn’t located and Chan didn’t offer it for admission to the Court. So he may not even get that amount.
The real irony here is that Chan’s path is eerily similar to Nina Wang’s. Her husband was kidnapped in 1990 and was never found. (In fact, that’s how she met Chan — he was supposed to help locate her husband). After Wang’s husband was declared dead, the father-in-law challenged the will that left Nina Wang everything.
And, just like in this case, the will was found to be a forgery and Nina Wang was charged criminally.
But, Nina Wang ultimately won on appeal and was exonerated. She inherited her husband’s fortune, despite originally losing her case. Will her feng shui master/former lover be as lucky on appeal?
Feb 4, 2010 Update — Tony Chan has been arrested because of the ruling. Read the story here.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ trialandheirs.com.