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.