Lessons from “Little Sweetie’s” Estate

Most of us live pretty mundane lives.  But not Hong Kong billionaire Nina Wang, who died in 2007 at age 69.  Wang, nicknamed “little sweetie” because she liked dressing in traditional Chinese clothing and wore pigtails, was the heiress to Hong Kong’s Wang Chinachem Group and was at the time of her death arguably the world’s richest woman, with a net worth of over $4 billion (US).

Her husband Teddy Wang was kidnaped twice – the second time occurred in 1992, and when he was never released, in 1999 he was declared legally dead.

Wang sought out feng shui master Tony Chan in 1992 to help find her husband, and then the two reputedly entered into a romantic relationship.  According to a New York Times article, Chan was a pretty “sketchy” fellow.  According to the article, at the time “Chan was already married and had a patchy resume as a waiter, bartender, machinery salesman and market researcher, making him an unlikely match for Wang.”

When Wang died in 2007, there were two competing wills.  One gave $387 million to Chan, but the bulk of her fortune went to Chinachem Charitable Foundation.  The other “will” gave the entire estate to Chan.

One will was obviously a fake.  After years of legal battles, Chan has now been convicted of forgery and use of a false instrument, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.  Calling him a “beguiling charlatan,” High Court Justice Andrew Macrae said that “Instead of benefitting mankind as Nina Wang wanted, the only one to benefit would have been you.”

Who says that estate planning is boring?  The lesson to learn from this is: Protect that will or estate planning document.  Also, if you have an old or superceded document, make it clear that it is superceded and revoked in the new planning documents.

Of course, it is much harder to protect against forgery, as happened in this case.

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