Does Full Blood Relative Take Precedence Over A Half Blood Relative?  1 SLR 681; [SGHC] 241
The deceased (“the Deceased”) died intestate on 29 June 2006. The Administrator of her Estate (“Administrator”), Estate & Trust Agencies (1927) Limited, is the defendant in both Originating Summons No 1351 of 2007 and Originating Summons No 1460 of 2007. The Deceased has no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or their children, or grandparents.
KTH is the Deceased’s maternal aunt and has the same parents as the Deceased’s mother. KTH passed away on 17 May 2008, after the death of the Deceased. The sole executrix of the estate of KTH (“KTH’s executrix”) is the intervener in both Originating Summons No 1351 of 2007 and Originating Summons No 1460 of 2007.
CHT and CKC are the paternal aunts of the Deceased. They have the same father but different mother from the Deceased’s father. CHT and CKC are the plaintiffs in Originating Summons No 1351 of 2007.
KST is the Deceased’s maternal uncle and has the same father but different mother from the Deceased’s mother. KST is the plaintiff in Originating Summons No 1460 of 2007.
In Originating Summons Probate No 197 of 2007, KTH was named as the only beneficiary of the Deceased’s estate.
In this action, KST, CHT and CKC contend that pursuant to s 7 r 8 of the ISA, they are beneficiaries of the Deceased’s estate. The Administrator seeks the decision of the Court as to whether CHT/CKC and/or KST are entitled to the Deceased’s estate. The Administrator has taken the position that KTH is the only beneficiary to the Deceased’s estate.
The sole issue before the High Court was whether KTH, KST, CHT and CKC are entitled to benefit from the estate of the Deceased in equal shares, or whether KTH has priority over the other three claimants on the basis that she is a full blood aunt, while KST is a half blood uncle and CHT/CKC are half blood aunts of the Deceased. This depends on whether s 7 r 8 of the ISA should be read in light of and subject to s 6(b) of the ISA such that a “whole blood” uncle/aunt takes in priority to a “half blood” uncle/aunt.
KST’s position was that under the ISA, the question of “half blood” and “whole blood” is confined to siblings of the person deceased and children of deceased siblings of the person deceased.
On the other hand, KTH submitted that the rules of distribution under s 7 rr 1 to 8 of the ISA ought to be read in the light of and subject to s 6(b) of the ISA.
Section 6 of the ISA reads as follows:
“Persons held to be similarly related to deceased.
6. For the purpose of distribution — (a) there shall be no distinction between those who are related to a person deceased through his father and those who are related to him through his mother nor between those who were actually born in his lifetime and those who at the date of his death were only conceived in the womb but who have subsequently been born alive; and (b) those related to a person deceased by the half blood shall rank immediately after those of the whole blood related to him in the same degree.”
And s 7 of the ISA states:
“Rules for distribution.
7. In effecting such distribution the following rules shall be observed:
If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse, no issue and no parent, the spouse shall be entitled to the whole of the estate.
If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and issue, the spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate.
Subject to the rights of the surviving spouse, if any, the estate (both as to the undistributed portion and the reversionary interest) of an intestate who leaves issue shall be distributed by equal portions per stirpes to and amongst the children of the person dying intestate and such persons as legally represent those children, in case any of those children be then dead.
Proviso No. (1) — The persons who legally represent the children of an intestate are their descendants and not their next-of-kin.
Proviso No. (2) — Descendants of the intestate to the remotest degree stand in the place of their parent or other ancestor, and take according to their stocks the share which he or she would have taken.
If an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and no issue but a parent or parents, the spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate and the parent or parents to the other half of the estate.
If there are no descendants the parent or parents of the intestate shall take the estate, in equal portions if there be two parents, subject to the rights of the surviving spouse (if any) as provided in rule 4.
If there are no surviving spouse, descendants or parents, the brothers and sisters and children of deceased brothers or sisters of the intestate shall share the estate in equal portions between the brothers and sisters and the children of any deceased brother or sister shall take according to their stocks the share which he or she would have taken.
If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or children of such brothers and sisters but grandparents of the intestate the grandparents shall take the whole of the estate in equal portions.
If there are no surviving spouse, descendants, parents, brothers and sisters or their children or grandparents but uncles and aunts of the intestate the uncles and aunts shall take the whole of the estate in equal portions.
In default of distribution under the foregoing rules the Government shall be entitled to the whole of the estate.”
The High Court’s Ruling
According to Justice Choo Han Teck sitting in the High Court, s 7 r 8 of the ISA must be read in the context of s 6(b) of the ISA. The concept of an aunt/uncle of “half blood” or “whole blood” exists at law in the context of intestate succession. Whilst there may be no judicial definition of a “half blood” aunt/uncle in Singapore, s 6(b) of the ISA lays down a general rule for the priority of whole blood relations over half blood relations of the same degree. This interpretation of the ISA would give effect to the phrases “for the purposes of distribution” and “[i]n effecting such distribution” in the preambles to s 6(b) and s 7 of the ISA, respectively.
The plaintiffs’ counsel claimed that there is no such thing as a “whole blood” uncle/aunt. They pointed out that in Black’s Law Dictionary Vol 1 (West Group, 7th Ed, 1999) at p 164, “whole blood” is defined as “[t]he relationship existing between persons having the same two parents; unmixed ancestry” and “half blood” is defined as “the relationship existing between persons having the same father or mother, but not both parents in common”. The counsel argued that persons related in “whole blood” to the Deceased must have the blood of both the Deceased’s parents. Even the mother of the Deceased is not a “whole blood” relative of the Deceased. Hence, the counsel asserted that the “whole blood” sister of the Deceased’s mother (ie, KTH) also cannot be a “whole blood” relative of the Deceased. The counsel argued that the operative phrase in s 6(b) of the ISA is the phrase “those related to the persons deceased” such that absent express reference to those related to parents of the persons deceased, the application of s 6(b) is confined to siblings of the person deceased and children of deceased siblings of the deceased.
Justice Choo Han Teck disagreed. In his opinion, the concept of a half blood aunt/uncle exists at law. Relatives of the whole blood are “relatives who share the same ancestors” and relatives of the half blood are “relatives who share only one ancestor”. In this sense, KTH can be said to be a whole blood relation of the Deceased since she shares the same blood as both grandparents of the Deceased whereas each of the plaintiffs only shares the blood of one grandparent of the Deceased.
It is clear from s 6(b) of the ISA that those related to a person deceased by a half blood should rank immediately after those of the whole blood related to him in the same degree.
Hence, whilst section 6(b) of the ISA does not distinguish between persons of the full blood and persons of the half blood with regards the manner of distribution, it affects the priority of distribution amongst relations of the same degree such that persons of the half blood will only have a right to succeed if there are no persons of the full blood (or their children) surviving at the time of death of the deceased.
The question turns on whether the phrase “related to [the intestate] in the same degree” in s 6(b) of the ISA is confined to siblings of the deceased. In Justice Choo Han Teck’s opinion, “degree” of kin includes aunts/uncles. The term “degree” in this context refers to the measure of removal from a particular person in the line of ascent or descent determining the proximity of a blood or marital relationship and applies to uncles/aunts of the deceased. The degree of relationship is ascertained by the number of steps that the relative was removed from the deceased, counting the generations down in the case of descendants (computing up to the common ancestor) and then down in the case of other relatives. An aunt/uncle, nephew/niece of a deceased would be related in the same degree (ie, third degree) to the deceased (eg, in the case of the aunt/uncle, the father grandfather, and aunt/uncle; in the case of the nephew/niece, the father, brother, and nephew/niece).
The ISA retains the identification of persons by degree of relationship in s 6(b) wherein it lays down a general rule of priority but adopts the identification of persons by descriptive name in s 7. The preamble to s 6 of the ISA explicitly states that s 6 is “[f]or the purposes of distribution” and the preamble to s 7 of the ISA explicitly states that the rules laid down therein are for “effecting such distribution”. Given that the concept of a whole blood and half blood aunt/uncle exists at law, s 6(b) applies to any distribution under s 7 r 8 of the ISA, and there is no need for explicit description of a whole blood or half blood aunt/uncle in s 7 r 8 of the ISA.
Therefore, section 7 r 8 of the ISA must be interpreted in the light of and subject to s 6(b) of the ISA. KTH, being a whole blood aunt of the Deceased, is thus the sole beneficiary of the Deceased’s estate to the exclusion of the plaintiffs, who are the half blood aunts and half blood uncle of the Deceased.
In conclusion, a full blood relative does take precedence over a half blood relative under the Intestate Succession Act and therefore, the Plaintiffs’ application was dismissed. This case serves as a timely reminder to all that a proper Will should be made to ascertain your choice of beneficiaries, because ultimately, what is decided by the law may not be in accordance to your wishes.
Advocate & Solicitor