PUTRAJAYA: In a landmark ruling today, the Federal Court unanimously held that an illegitimate non-Muslim child is entitled to a share in the estate of a parent who dies intestate (without a will).
Justice Mary Lim, who delivered the ruling, said the word “issue” as defined in the Distribution Act 1958 must include a child with blood lineage to a deceased parent regardless of the child’s legitimacy.
Lim said this when allowing an appeal by a 21-year-old woman fathered by a wealthy businessman who was not legally married to her mother.
She said the central issue in the appeal was whether the terms “child” and “issue” in the Distribution Act should be read in a non-discriminatory way in light of Article 8 in the Federal Constitution.
Article 8 provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abdul Rahman Sebli and Justice Hasnah Hashim were the other members who heard the appeal.
The bench also allowed costs of RM50,000 to the woman, who was represented by Cyrus Das and AG Kalidas.
The dispute began in 2010 when the woman sought to lay claim to her share of her deceased father’s estate.
The claim was refused by the lawful wife of the deceased businessman, leading the woman to file a suit in 2015, seeking her entitlement under the Distribution Act.
The High Court was called upon to determine the child’s legitimacy for inheritance purposes as her late father had died without leaving a will.
The widow of the deceased sought a declaration that the child, who had been fathered by the deceased with another woman, was illegitimate, and did not have a claim to the deceased’s estate.
The High Court granted the declaration in 2018, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeal the following year, leading to the present appeal.
Lawyer Loh Chang Woo appeared for the widow.