Wealthy homeowner loses legal bid for cut of late partner’s estate

A wealthy homeowner who challenged his dead partner’s will for a cut of her $1.1 million estate – despite the proceeds put aside to provide for her grieving son – has lost his financial claim.

Auckland software engineer Shoujun (Don) Zhang earns more than $100,000 a year and owns two Auckland homes worth nearly $2.5m combined, including a mortgage-free investment property in Mt Eden.

A judge has ruled that Zhang has no right to more money from his dead partner, pointing out that the 52-year-old professional “is not badly off”.

The dead woman’s son, Auckland University engineering student Longee Guo, 24, has astudent loan of nearly $50,000 and has spent more than $100,000 defending Zhang’s claim.

He is now entitled to pursue costs.

Guo told the Herald he welcomed the decision, which came a day before his late mother’s 51st birthday, labelling Zhang’s actions greedy, arrogant and disrespectful.

“My mum’s wishes are finally upheld. I finally got justice.

“She would have been proud of me.”

Zhang’s de facto partner of six years, Hui (Helen) Chai, died of breast cancer in 2018. Her final wish was for Guo, her only child, to be taken care of. She made her son the primary beneficiary of her estate.

Upon Chai’s death, Zhang received ownership of the couple’s shared $1.5m Greenhithe home plus nearly $44,000 from their joint bank account.

A hearing in November heard that Chai wanted a Glenfield house she had owned before meeting Zhang to go to her son and his grandmother, to ensure they both had financial security after her death.

The North Shore cafe owner, who emigrated to New Zealand from China, made provisions for this to happen in her will.

Despite receiving cash and equity worth more than $300,000, Zhang was not content with his lot after Chai’s death.

So he filed a claim under the Family Protection Act saying Chai owed him a “moral duty” to provide proper maintenance and support.

Zhang wanted further financial compensation and for Chai’s son to pay half the $871,453 mortgage debt owing on the Greenhithe property on behalf of his dead mother’s estate.

Zhang’s lawyer argued he’d poured all his income into the family and been “saddled” with a joint mortgage debt that would normally be shared, “which was not extinguished by death”.

Guo’s lawyers took a different view, arguing Zhang was already financially flush and had no moral right to receive money intended to benefit Guo.

A reserved decision handed down yesterday by Justice Palmer sided with Guo and rejected Zhang’s claim.

“Her will left everything to Mr Guo,” the judge wrote.

“Her will acknowledgment document specifies that ‘I wish to provide for my son first and foremost’.

“The Glenfield property was intended by Ms Chai under her will to be a primary means to provide for her son and her mother after her death.”

While Zhang undoubtedly played an important part in the last six years of Chai’s life, “her mother and son could reasonably be considered to have a played a more important part in her life overall”, Justice Palmer wrote.

“I consider it was reasonable for Ms Chai to believe that passage of [the Greenhithe] property would sufficiently provide for Mr Zhang.

“With a six-figure salary and the unmortgaged Mt Eden property providing rental income, in addition to the Greenhithe property, Mr Zhang is not badly off.

“He does not have need of maintenance and support.”

At last year’s hearing, Guo’s lawyer Sally Morris said Zhang had considerable financial means.

“The evidence is clear that Ms Chai intended that Mr Zhang would receive her interest in the Greenhithe property and take responsibility for the mortgage. She wanted Longee to receive everything else.”

The will provided for an immediate $80,000 gift to Guo with the remainder of the estate held in trust till he turned 25 later this year.

In a counter claim, Guo asked the court to order Zhang to discharge a security registered over the Glenfield home against Zhang’s Greenhithe property, as Guo feared his house could be sold if Zhang won the case.

Justice Palmer ordered that mortgage documents be amended so any money owing was secured against properties owned by Zhang “and not over the Glenfield property in which he has no interest”.

Guo told the Herald he’d offered Zhang $100,000 to drop the case but he “refused to budge”.

“Now he gets nothing and has to pay some of my legal costs.”

Guo accused Zhang of being arrogant, greedy and disrespectful of his mother’s wishes.

He was “ecstatic” with the outcome and thanked his friends and legal team for their support.

“My grandmother and I look forward to moving on with our lives now.”

In a statement, Zhang said the case was not decided on “personality conflicts or characteristics”.

“There were genuine issues to be resolved by the judge who gave directions that were lacking in the affairs of the parties. They are now answered accordingly.”

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