Sham Marriage: does that revoke one’s CPF nomination?

Weddings are synonymously considered with marriage, and most couples (if not all) take great pains to plan for the wedding itself. Flowers, caterers, photographers. Every minor wrinkle must be ironed out before the big day. What is often overlooked, however (and quite understandably), is the implications of the marriage on one’s assets after death.

In this context, in relation to one’s estate, a marriage typically results in the automatic revocation of one’s will and CPF nomination. Pursuant to section 25(5) of the Central Provident Fund Act (Cap. 36), any nomination made shall be revoked by marriage. Similarly, under section 13 of the Wills Act (Cap. 352), a will will be automatically revoked by the marriage. There is an exception, however, in respect of the revocation of wills – if the will is expressed to be in contemplation of marriage, it will not be automatically revoked.

In this regard, if you foresee that marriage is a possibility for you in the future, then we offer our congratulations in advance, but caution that care must be taken in drafting your will.

Sham or void marriages?

Jackie Kennedy once said, “The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” As rightly alluded to, people marry for a myriad of reasons. There are even occasions where a marriage is entered into for reasons of convenience, i.e. to help the “spouse” to obtain a work permit. While some have said that there lies some truth in Jackie’s words, the situation sometimes reveals that the “marriages” are sham marriages and in those instances, questions are raised in respect of the distribution of the deceased’s “spouse” assets.

In the case of Soon Ah See v Diao Yanmei [2016] (“SAS v DY”), the High Court considered whether the marriage between Ms. Diao and Mr. Soon (deceased) was a “sham” marriage, and if so, whether the “sham” marriage would necessarily result in the automatic revocation of the deceased’s prior CPF nomination. By way of background, SAS v DY was a case of two sisters who sought to prevent their deceased brother’s wife from obtaining a share of his CPF monies, on the grounds that their marriage was one of convenience to help the woman, a Chinese national, obtain a work permit. The issue of CPF nomination arose because prior to his marriage, the deceased, Mr. Soon, made a CPF nomination in favour of his two sisters in equal shares. Mr. Soon then married Ms. Diao, but his purported marriage was not announced to anybody in his family, and was only discovered after Mr. Soon’s passing when Mr. Soon’s sisters visited the CPF board in relation to the former nomination. In light of the marriage, the CPF nomination was automatically revoked, and Mr. Soon’s sisters therefore commenced the action against Ms. Diao. In relation to the first issue, the Court held that the marriage was a sham marriage but was not therefore void per se. Notwithstanding the validity of the marriage, the Court then went on to hold that the deceased’s prior CPF nomination was not automatically revoked.

While the amendments to the Women’s Charter which took effect from 1 October 2016 supersedes the High Court’s ruling on the first question (since sham marriages are now legislatively construed as being void), attention should still be given to the ruling on the second issue, that a sham marriage does not result in the automatic revocation of a person’s CPF nomination.

While no mention was made about wills in SAS v DY, in our opinion the same principles should apply to a formerly executed will. If a subsequent marriage is deemed void, the will should not be revoked as a result of the marriage.

Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies, monies nonetheless

When one thinks of one’s assets – one’s CPF savings are quite often overlooked. No doubt this may be partially because one’s CPF savings, like money in a piggy bank, are not the lowest hanging fruit on a tree. It should however be remembered when one is writing one’s will, as the bequest of all your assets in a will, unfortunately, does not include one’s CPF savings.

If you want your CPF savings to be distributed according to your wishes, you should make a CPF nomination by way of the form provided in the CPF website. You may specify who is to receive your CPF savings, and in what proportion each nominee should receive, upon your demise. Such distributions may be made in cash via cheque or GIRO, in their CPF accounts, or by monthly payments (if made to children with special needs).

We should mention however that the CPF board does not permit nominations to be made by category (e.g. to “all my children in equal proportions”). Therefore, you must also remember to update the CPF nomination where there are changes in circumstances (e.g. marriage, child birth, or death).

If no nomination is made, your CPF savings will be transferred to the Public Trustee’s Office on your demise, for distribution to your family members under the Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146) (the “Act”) if you are not Muslim, or under the Inheritance Certificate if you are Muslim. For example, under the Act, if an intestate dies leaving a surviving spouse and issue, the spouse shall be entitled to one-half of the estate. We should also mention that a fee will be charged for such distribution.

While you may agonise over how your CPF savings may only be used in certain circumstances, remembering that you have assets in the form of CPF savings (and making the due nominations) will allow you to provide more for your loved ones in the event of your demise, in the way you wish.