Legal Update 8 of 2017


Whether the surviving beneficiaries of a will could apply to disenfranchise/remove the deceased beneficiaries where there was no intention on part of testator [person making the will] to do so. 



 CASE : Tan Sri Dr M Mahadevan v Dr. Jeyalakshmi Ratnavale & Ors [2017] 4 CLJ 451 CA


  • The deceased (Ratnavale) had created a will dated 10 February 1971 (‘the will’), bequeathing/giving all his property to his wife, Annalakshmi, and his mother, Ratnamal, and to all his 6 children in whatever proportions his trustees at their discretion would choose. Therefore, there was a total of eight beneficiaries to the will.
  • Ratnavale had in his will appointed two of his brothers as the executors and trustees of the will (‘appellants and 2nd defendants’).
  • Ratnavale passed away in April 1973 and at the time of his death, the eight beneficiaries were alive.
  • Probate of the will was granted in May 1974.
  • Ratnamal [Ratnavale’s mother] died in December 1994, leaving a will appointing her two daughters as joint executors and equal beneficiaries to her estate.
  • Annalakshmi [Ratnavale’s wife] died in October 2010 and no Probate or Letters of Administration had been issued.
  • This means 2 of the beneficiaries under Ratnavale’s will have died before Ratnavale’s estate was distributed.
  • The six children (respondents) [remaining beneficiaries under Rantavale’s will] applied to the High Court to terminate the trust created under Ratnavale’s will and applied for all the properties to be distributed equally to them. Meaning they wanted to exclude Ratnamal’s two daughters from getting any of part of the estate.
  • The High Court allowed the application and held that the trust created in Ratnavale’s will was a discretionary trust and the rights of the deceased beneficiaries (the mother and wife) under the will had been extinguished upon their deaths.
  • Hence, the present appeal by the appellants. 

DECISION : Appeal Allowed

  • Two of the beneficiaries; i.e Annalakshmi and Ratnamal (the deceased beneficiaries) have died before the exercise of the trustees’ discretion in distributing Ratnavale’s property upon his death.
  • The rights of Annalakshmi and Ratnamal (the deceased beneficiaries) can only be taken away by clear words by the testator, and on the facts there was no such intention to remove/disenfranchise the deceased beneficiaries.
  • The court is only required to determine what the intentions of the testator in the will were.
  • Ratnavale clearly gave all his properties to his wife, mother and six children but in such proportion as his trustees at their discretion deem fit.
  • Therefore, Annalakshmi’s and Ratnamal’s beneficiaries will be entitled to a portion of Ratnavale’s estate.
  • In addition, the representatives of the estate of Annalakshmi and Ratnamal are entitled to demand their portion of Ratnavale's estate to be remitted to their estate.


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