Can a widow claim a share of Tso / Tong property?

In Lee Sun Kiu v Ho Kay Fuk ([2004] HKCU 960, CFI) P was the widow of the member of a customary trust. Her husband had died several decades before the action. The couple had two daughters but no sons. Trust property had been sold and P sought a declaration that she was a member of the Tong and entitled to a share of the proceeds of sale. Her action failed.

In principle, membership of a Tso or Tong is exclusively for male members. While the court did not rule out the possibility of a local custom to the contrary, there was no cogent evidence of such a custom in this case ([34] – [51]).

As regards Tso / Tong properties (rather than family properties):

‘Since the interest and membership arises upon birth and ceases upon death, there is no question of succession of such interest and membership from father to son. Nor is there any question of that interest and membership forming part of the family property of a deceased male. When an heir is adopted posthumously, the adopted son becomes a member on his own right instead of being succeeded to the interest of the deceased in the Tso.’ (72]).

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