Lee Kuan Yew’s “Will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place”?

Source: Choo Yut Shing/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0Source: Choo Yut Shing/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I refer to the article “Oxley Road dispute: Lee Kuan Yew’s final will ‘accepts’ Oxley house demolition may not take place, says Indranee Rajah” (Straits Times, Jun 23).

It states that:

Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s final will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition of his Oxley Road house may not take place, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah.

In a Facebook post on Friday (June 23), she cites a clause on demolishing 38, Oxley Road in the will, saying it shows demolition is not the only option the late Mr Lee considered.

On Friday, Ms Indranee noted there are two parts to the demolition clause.

The first part expresses the late Mr and Mrs Lee’s wish to demolish the house, but the second part recognises the house may not be demolished for a number of reasons, she said.

She cites the second part, which states: “If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants.”

Said Ms Indranee: “Much of the recent public discussion on this issue has been premised on the assumption that the 7th Will only contemplates one outcome – demolition. But this is not the case. The Will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place.””

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will stated:

I further declare that it is my wish and the wish of my late Wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (“the House”) be demolished immediately after my death, or if my daughter Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out.”

It is crystal clear that Mr Lee’s wish was to demolish the house.

As to the statement that: “If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants” – Mr Lee is clearly stating that if his wish (to demolish the house) was thwarted by circumstances beyond the children’s control to carry out his wish (“if our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them”) – then “it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants”.

Mr Lee’s statement cannot by any figment of the imagination be interpreted as “the Will specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place”.

In any case, just for the sake of argument – why does the Will continue to state that “my view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private”?

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was clearly repeating his wish so that there could be no uncertainty or doubt about his wish to demolish the house.

Perhaps the great Mr Lee Kuan Yew had the foresight to prophecise that his children might not be able to carry out his wish to demolish his house due to “any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them” – which is, arguably, what is exactly happening right now.

Hence, with regard to Ms Indranee’s remarks – “therefore, even based on the 7th Will, several things are immediately clear:

Demolition was not the only option contemplated by Mr Lee Kuan Yew;

there are two parts to the clause. The part first expresses his and Mrs Lee’s wish, which was for demolition;

however, the second part recognises that the house may not be demolished for a number of reasons. Mr Lee accepted that the house may not be demolished and in such case expressed his wishes on what should happen. Essentially he did not want the House to be open to the public.

Much of the recent public discussion on this issue has been premised on the assumption that the 7th Will only contemplates one outcome – demolition. But this is not the case” – my view is that – 

The plain and ordinary meaning of Mr Lee’s words that “if our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, …” should not be interpreted as Mr Lee’s alternative disposition to preserve the house, as Ms Indranee tries to claim in her statement that Mr Lee “specifically accepts and acknowledges that demolition may not take place”, i.e., that Mr Lee specifically accepted that the house might be preserved.


Paragraph 7 of Mr Lee’s Will, when read as a whole clearly shows that Mr Lee wanted his children to demolish the house, especially when he specifically stated that


“I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out.”

Also, the circumstances and statements in the months and years leading up to his 7th Will clearly and consistently reiterated his wish to demolish the house.

As I am a layman – the above is just my humble view. Can the legal professionals enlighten us please?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong
Leong Sze Hian has served as president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), invited to speak more than 200 times in over 30 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of Indonesia and Brunei. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.