Doubt as to legal status of wife / concubine: solicitors’ duty to correctly identify status

Estate of Tse Chu ([2012] HKEC 770) concerned T’s estate. She had married her husband in Hong Kong in 1945 and died intestate. Her husband had contracted two previous marriages in Mainland China in 1925 and 1932 respectively and there were children of these marriages which had never been brought to an end. The affirmation in support of an application for letters of administration stated that her husband had other wives. In answer to a requisition concerning their statuses, the solicitors acting stated that they were ‘equal wives.’ It was clear, however, that they were not ‘equal wives’ (ping chai). Whether T was her husband’s concubine was unclear. The answer to this question would have very practical consequences for the administration of the estate. The court reminded the solicitors that it was their duty to take proper instructions and obtain expert evidence if need be so that T’s legal status (and that of the other wives) could be correctly identified. It was not enough to transmit the layman’s view of the matter.

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