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Lee Suet Fern found guilty of misconduct in handling Lee Kuan Yew’s will, suspended from legal practice for 15 months

SINGAPORE — The Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body dealing with lawyers’ misconduct, has suspended Mrs Lee Suet Fern from legal practice for 15 months. She was found guilty of “misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor” over her handling of the last will of her late father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew.

Mrs Lee Suet Fern (pictured) said that she disagreed with the court’s decision on her suspension, maintaining that there was no basis for the case to even have been initiated.

Mrs Lee Suet Fern (pictured) said that she disagreed with the court’s decision on her suspension, maintaining that there was no basis for the case to even have been initiated.

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  • Mrs Lee Suet Fern was found guilty of misconduct "unbefitting an advocate and solicitor"
  • But the judges presiding over her case acquitted her of gross improper conduct, charges a disciplinary tribunal found her guilty of earlier 
  • Nonetheless, the court said Mrs Lee did not perform her due diligence as a lawyer
  • She disagreed with the decision, saying there was no basis for the case to even have been initiated 


SINGAPORE — The Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body dealing with lawyers’ misconduct, has suspended Mrs Lee Suet Fern from legal practice for 15 months. She was found guilty of “misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor” over her handling of the last will of her late father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew. 

However, the court acquitted her of gross improper conduct, which a disciplinary tribunal had found her guilty of in February.

Following the judgement, which was delivered on Friday (Nov 20), Mrs Lee, a partner with law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford, said that she disagreed with the court’s decision, maintaining that there was no basis for the case to have been initiated in the first place.

Lawyers representing Mrs Lee, who is married to the late founding prime minister’s younger son Lee Hsien Yang, contested the tribunal’s findings and chose to take her case to court. 

The Court of Three Judges, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Judge Woo Bih Li, said that Mrs Lee was acquitted of gross improper conduct, since no solicitor-client relationship could be established between her and Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015 at age 91.

Still, other charges remained as they found that Mrs Lee acted in “complete disregard” for the interests of Lee Kuan Yew and “blindly followed the directions of her husband” by rushing through the execution of his last will. The late statesman signed this will on Dec 17, 2013 — about 15 months before his death.

Mrs Lee’s suspension is the latest development in a long-running dispute between Lee Kuan Yew’s children — Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Dr Lee Wei Ling and their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road. 

Mrs Lee, who has been practising law for 37 years, was being investigated over whether she had breached her professional duties in the preparation and execution of the last will, which contained a clause stating that the house be demolished. 

The family dispute was made public in June 2017, when Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee posted a six-page statement on Facebook, accusing PM Lee of abusing his authority to prevent the demolition of the house.

Lee Kuan Yew had seven wills in total, and from the fifth will onwards, the demolition clause was omitted completely but was reinstated in the seventh and last will, which was done with Mrs Lee’s involvement.


In its judgement, the court found that Mrs Lee did not receive instructions directly from Lee Kuan Yew to revert to his first will — which formed the basis of his last will — and there was also no “implied retainer” between both of them. 

The implied retainer argument was to make out the basis of whether Mrs Lee had breached her professional duties. Only if this was established could there be a question of whether the breach amounted to “gross improper conduct”.

Mrs Lee had learnt of the instructions to revert to the first will from her husband on Dec 16, 2013, the court said. Lee Kuan Yew had contacted Mr Lee Hsien Yang to tell him that he wanted to change his will and revert to his original 2011 will, under which his children would receive equal shares of the Oxley Road estate.

As Mr Lee Hsien Yang was due to fly to Australia that evening, he spoke to his wife and asked her to coordinate the arrangements with Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li, for him to re-execute his first will. 

Mrs Lee, who had helped draft certain aspects of the first will in 2011, then retrieved from her records a copy of what she thought was the final draft of the first will and sent it to her father-in-law with a view to having it re-executed. 

“It is undisputed that she made no effort to establish whether whatever draft of the first will that she had and that she forwarded to (Lee Kuan Yew) was in fact the same as the executed version of the first will,” the judges wrote.

“Instead, she assumed this to be so, and represented it as such to (Lee Kuan Yew) when she forwarded the draft last will to him by way of the 7.08pm email on Dec 16, 2013 and stated without qualification that it was 'the original agreed will, which ensures that all three children receive equal shares’.”

It turned out that Mrs Lee had sent Lee Kuan Yew an earlier draft of the first will, instead of the final draft of this first will that he had earlier executed. She also did not verify with him whether he did indeed wish to revert to this will.

The judges said that it was “fortuitous” that the contents of the last will signed were materially similar to the final draft of the first will that Lee Kuan Yew wanted to revert to.

“(It) does not discount the fact that the potential harm could have been far more severe than the actual harm that eventuated.” 


Shortly after Mrs Lee sent her father-in-law the draft last will via email, Mr Lee Hsien Yang told his father by email that he could not reach Ms Kwa and that he did not think “it was wise” for him to wait until Ms Kwa returned before going ahead to sign his last will. 

In that email, Mr Lee Hsien Yang had copied Mrs Lee and the late statesman’s personal assistant, Ms Wong Lin Hoe, but removed Ms Kwa from the list of addressees. 

Saying it found several aspects of this email troubling, the court said that Mr Lee Hsien Yang could not have known at that point that his father would agree to Ms Kwa’s exclusion.

It also does not appear that Mr Lee Hsien Yang checked with anyone when Ms Kwa would be contactable or would return, the judges said. 

“The evidence shows that Ms Kwa was very much contactable and able to respond shortly after receiving the email that (Mrs Lee) sent her at 1.16pm on Dec 17, 2013, after the execution of the last will earlier that day,” the judges wrote. 

They added that it was unclear why Mr Lee Hsien Yang thought it unwise for his father to await Ms Kwa’s return before he executed the last will. 

While Mrs Lee had said that her father-in-law was in a rush to execute it because he had a “strong sense of his own mortality” and was “anxious to put his affairs in order”, the judges noted that he had been perfectly content to engage in discussions with Ms Kwa in the weeks before he signed the last will, about changing some aspects of his penultimate will. 

The judges said that Mrs Lee should have seen the need for “extreme caution, restraint and circumspection”, after her husband told his father that he could sign the last will without waiting for Ms Kwa.

“The only proper course for (Mrs Lee), as a solicitor, was to intervene and tell her husband that the execution of the last will could not be rushed through as he evidently wished.” 

She should also have been “alive to the real danger” that it was her husband, a major beneficiary of the last will, not Lee Kuan Yew, who was in a hurry to have it executed. 

Mrs Lee, moreover, did not see fit to correct the mistaken beliefs that her father-in-law might have had — he had asked a colleague of Mrs Lee’s on two occasions who had drafted the last will — and failed to alert Ms Kwa to the circumstances surrounding the preparation and execution of the will.

Whether intentionally or not, Mrs Lee also removed any sign pointing to any cause for concern on Ms Kwa’s part, the judges said. For instance, she did not include any of the email messages from which Ms Kwa had earlier been excluded.

Mrs Lee’s culpability, the judges said, could have been reduced if she had told Ms Kwa of the circumstances surrounding the signing of the will, but she did not.

Notwithstanding these, they said that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Lee Kuan Yew decided to press ahead with the signing of his last will because he reasonably regarded that Mrs Lee was acting as his solicitor. Rather, he proceeded on the advice of his son.

Ultimately, Mrs Lee’s conduct must be assessed in light of her “divided loyalties”, the court said. 

“On the one hand, she was loyal to her husband, who was a significant beneficiary under the last will and who was evidently keen to rush its execution. 

“On the other hand, she had a responsibility to act honourably and to ensure that (Lee Kuan Yew), (whom) she would reasonably have regarded as her client, was fully apprised of the factual position before he proceeded to execute the last will.

“Even in the absence of an implied retainer, the potential conflict of interest presented by these divided loyalties must have been patent to (Mrs Lee).”

In a statement on Friday, Mrs Lee reiterated that it was a private will, adding: “Lee Kuan Yew knew what he wanted. He got what he wanted. The Court of Three (Judges) did not find that he was of unsound mind or that he was not in control.”

Related topics

Lee Suet Fern Lee Kuan Yew misconduct 38 Oxley Road court suspend

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