Kuk seeks solution to estate problem

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2008, 12:00am

Group in bid to restore inheritance of males

The official body representing indigenous inhabitants has formed a taskforce to seek ways of overcoming the effects of a four-year-old court ruling on the New Territories tradition of inheritance down the male line.

Heung Yee Kuk has criticised the government for not alerting it earlier to the ruling, which outlawed the practice of posthumous adoption under which the property of men who died without wills or male heirs could be claimed by other male relatives such as nephews.

Kuk executive Lam Kwok-cheong said the time for an appeal had expired but one possibility was legislation to restore the rights to male descendants in cases falling within a certain time frame.

'Why did the government fail to inform us four years ago?' Mr Lam said. 'If they did, we could have had enough time to seek legal advice and do whatever we could to sort out the issues.'

The kuk was told by the Home Affairs Bureau late last year that about 90 applications to inherit property left by deceased villagers without any wills and surviving male descendants had been shelved due to a court of appeal ruling in 2003 that posthumous adoption had been abolished under the Adoption Ordinance as amended in 1972.

As a result, the court disallowed a Sheung Shui male villager, who registered as being the heir, from inheriting the land left by his uncle and aunt who had died in 1943 and 1987 respectively.

Instead, the court ruled that the property should go to the elder daughter of the deceased, who had challenged her cousin's claim since 1992.

Under customary laws - regarded as the right of indigenous New Territories residents since 1910 - succession is normally inherited along the male line. When a man died without will or children, the closest male relatives might be adopted posthumously and entitled to inherit the property.

The kuk said the practice, aiming to protect the continuity of the male bloodline of their clan and ancestor worship, could apply even when the deceased was survived by daughters.

The Home Affairs Bureau said it had tried its best to convey the ruling and its implications, after careful study, as quickly as possible to the kuk. 'As the case involved complicated issues and the judgment has significant implications for the rural community, the study has taken a longer time,' a spokesman said.

He said the bureau had already scheduled a follow-up meeting with the kuk next month.

In 1994, the New Territories Land (Exemption) Ordinance was passed, tackling the issue of rural land succession when someone dies intestate. The law, which offers indigenous female members the same succession rights as men, ended the centuries-old discriminatory practice.