Lessons learnt from Syed Kechik’s estate legal battle

A few days ago, I had written a rather long piece that summarised the protracted legal battle for control of the multi-million estate of Syed Kechik Mohamed Al-Bukhary who died in 2009. Please click here to read my piece because I won’t be repeating it today.

Basically, there are three lessons to learn from this classic example of intestacy, that is, a situation where someone dies without a Will (or Wasiat in the case of a Muslim).

First, let me say that the deceased was a very wealthy man. When Syed Kechik died, he left an estate worth well over RM400 million. His heirs were his wife from a second marriage (his first marriage had ended in a divorce), a son from his first marriage and two daughters from his second marriage. However, without a Wasiat in which he could have appointed someone to be the Executor of his estate and with the estate now frozen until an Administrator can be appointed, none of the heirs are able to benefit from the estate. This is all too common, and it affects both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Secondly, it is very surprising that an intelligent man like Syed Kechik, who had been creating, growing and protecting his wealth all his life, could have missed out on that very important final aspect of wealth management, which is how his assets should be distributed ultimately. There is little point in being wealthy when at the end of the day, you subject your heirs to a protracted court battle. The longer the legal tussle, the more the deceased has put the worth of his estate at risk.

And thirdly, how can a Muslim avoid all these battles, arguments and animosity in the family? I’ve already mentioned the use of the Wasiat to appoint an Executor who can carry out the distribution of the residuary estate according to the complex Faraid equation (once the Probate is granted). Another helpful way is for the husband and wife to draw up a Declarasi Harta Sepencarian (a declaration of matrimonial property). The concept is very simple: if a wife can prove that she has helped her husband to prosper, she can claim up to half of his assets that were accummulated during their wedded years together.

Without these two instruments – the Wasiat and the Declarasi Harta Sepencarian – in many cases family harmony can threaten to break down totally when heirs line up against one another. The Syed Kechik case is a typical example.

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