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'Undue influence:' Women claim their uncle drained grandmother's $2.5m estate

Jeremy Wilkinson,
Publish Date
Sat, 22 Jun 2024, 10:51am
Two women say their uncle had undue influence over their grandmother and her estate. Photo / NZME
Two women say their uncle had undue influence over their grandmother and her estate. Photo / NZME

'Undue influence:' Women claim their uncle drained grandmother's $2.5m estate

Jeremy Wilkinson,
Publish Date
Sat, 22 Jun 2024, 10:51am

When Yu-Huan Shih died, her grandchildren expected to get a share of her nearly $2.5 million estate. 

Instead, they found in the last few years of her life she had changed her will, given her son power of attorney as well as more than $1.5 million in combined real estate, and the $1 million left in her bank account had virtually disappeared. 

Melody Casse and Sheu-Harn Lin claim their uncle Chien-Nan Shih, who goes by the name Jason, manipulated their grandmother into signing over all her assets and then draining her bank account. 

Now, a court has partially sided with Casse and Lin and granted them administrative privileges over what remains of the estate and removed their uncle as executor. 

The judgement, recently released by the High Court in Auckland, details how after their grandmother’s death in 2021 Casse and Lin expected to have been provided for in her will. 

Instead, their uncle was the sole executor and sole beneficiary of the will which he and his mother witnessed and signed in 2018. 

Mrs Shih had made four wills, in 2006, 2012, 2013 and 2018 and the executors named in them included a family friend, her son-in-law and her natural son Jason Shih. 

The wills dealt with three properties Mrs Shih owned at various times, all situated in Mount Roskill. Those properties were left to different beneficiaries in different wills which also differed in the amount of cash gifts and any surplus finances. 

However, in 2018 Mrs Shih signed a new will with her and Jason as signatories. 

In it, she sold two of her properties to Jason valued at $930,000 and $680,000. But no money actually changed hands, Mrs Shih agreeing to transfer the properties and then forgiving the debt. 

In the same will, she granted Jason power of attorney which came into effect immediately meaning he had control over her estate and its assets. 

Only $40,000 left 

In 2018 Mrs Shih had $1.1 million in the bank and two properties to her name. 

By the time of her death three years later both those properties were in Jason’s name and there was only $40,000 left in her bank account. 

Casse and Lin say attempts to understand the terms of their grandmother’s will were “stonewalled” by Jason so they took their case to the High Court in Auckland earlier this year hoping to seize executor responsibilities from their uncle to find out where the money had gone. 

They told the court if successful they intended to investigate the circumstances in which the property was transferred to their uncle as well as the diminished bank funds. 

Depending on the outcome of those investigations they may then bring a proceeding to bring the two properties that were given to Jason back into the estate. 

In their affidavits, the two granddaughters provided details about what they claim was Jason’s “undue influence” over his mother and his plan to divest the estate so there would be no point in contesting the will because there would be nothing left. 

Jason’s lawyer, Dala Oh, said her client refuted any suggestion he had manipulated his mother into signing over the properties and giving him power of attorney. 

He didn’t dispute that the properties had been signed over to him nor that the bank funds had dropped by over $1 million in the three years after her death. 

Jason has brought separate proceedings against his nieces seeking to enforce the 2018 will. In these proceedings he says it’s more appropriate to detail where his mother’s money has gone. 

Oh said on his behalf that Casse and Lin didn’t need to be administrators to investigate the removal of the assets and they could do this in a separate proceeding. 

However, Justice Neil Campbell said Jason had not chosen to explain the financial situation of his mother’s estate. 

“Standing back, the overriding factor in this application is that from the time that Mrs Shih made the 2018 will she effectively gifted two real properties to Jason and over the following three years, during which time Jason held a power of attorney, Mrs Shih’s bank funds diminished by over $1 million,” Justice Campbell said. 

“They deserve further investigation and possibly action. If Jason is appointed administrator, he will not take those steps. 

“If the applicants are appointed, they will.” 

Justice Campbell said in an ideal world neither party would be named as administrator and a third, independent party named instead. 

However, because there is so little money remaining in the estate he said: “Someone has to be administrator, and in this case it will be someone who has a hostility towards a beneficiary of the estate.” 

Jason, Casse and Lin all declined to provide comment for this article. 

Jeremy Wilkinson is an Open Justice reporter based in Manawatū covering courts and justice issues with an interest in tribunals. He has been a journalist for nearly a decade and has worked for NZME since 2022. 

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