Peter Chan

Nina's lesson of wealth and will

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 5:00pm

After Teddy Wang Teh-huei disappeared, his widow, Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum, fought through Hong Kong's courts for eight years to establish the validity of a will that entitled her to inherit the Chinachem Group, as opposed to an earlier will in favour of her father-in-law. Despite this ordeal, she did nothing to prevent a similar situation - the emergence of two wills - arising after her own death. In this case, her former fung shui adviser Peter Chan Chun-chuen has been found guilty of forging a will in his favour and has been jailed for 12 years.

It may seem to be stating the obvious to say that Nina Wang should have been aware of the importance of succession planning - leaving behind unambiguous wishes, known to all concerned, and an indisputable will to give effect to them. But in a society dominated by family businesses, handing down immense fortunes built from scratch in the 1960s and 1970s has proved a challenge to the city's ageing tycoons. Evidence of that is to be found in a number of squabbles, most notably between the three Kwok brothers who run Sun Hung Kai Properties and within the family of gambling mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

Asia's richest man and chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings), Li Ka-shing, set a sound precedent for his peers only last year by publicly announcing succession plans and wealth splitting arrangements between his two sons. According to a study of family succession in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore between 1987 and 2005 by Chinese University professor Joseph Fan, the investing public has a legitimate interest in a clean wealth split and the minimisation of potential disputes. He found that the five-year period in which there is generational change in ownership and control tended to coincide with an average 60 per cent market-adjusted drop in companies' share prices.

As for Chan, he once had Nina Wang's generosity to thank for being worth HK$2.7 billion. If the story of his self-destructive greed has a moral, it is that the mega rich should face their mortality and safeguard their legacy.