PETALING JAYA: A divorced woman has failed to block the EPF board from paying out money in her former husband’s account to his mother after the High Court said she had failed to take action promptly and ruled that her claim was without merit.
In 2017, Tan Shing Ying divorced her now deceased former husband, Tan Tze Pei.
In October 2021, she obtained a court order giving Tze Pei 14 days to withdraw funds from his EPF account to settle arrears in maintenance payments due to her under the terms of their divorce.
Tze Pei failed to comply with the court order.
Instead, he nominated his mother as beneficiary of the funds in his account in September 2022. He died two months later.
Unable to claim the funds from the board due to the nomination, Shing Ying filed her application in court 18 months later, naming the board and her former mother-in-law as defendants.
The application asked for the court to declare that she was entitled to receive the sum due to her under the court order from monies in Tze Pei’s EPF account.
She also sought an order prohibiting the board from releasing money to her former mother-in-law in accordance with the nomination.
Justice Evrol Mariette Peters rejected the claim, saying it “should not be entertained” on account of Shing Ying’s one-and-a-half years delay in bringing the action.
“The plaintiff (Shing Ying) sought to attribute the lack of prompt action to her former solicitors. I found her explanation unsustainable, considering that her previous solicitors were not present in court to provide their account.
“Furthermore, any interactions between the plaintiff and her previous solicitors were not the purview of this court’s consideration,” Peters said.
In any event, she ruled that the relief sought by Shing Ying had no basis.
The judge said that while it is a “well-established principle” that funds held in a member’s account form part of matrimonial property, Section 53A of the EPF Act “does not compel the EPF board to execute the transfer”.
She also found that although the court order required Tze Pei to withdraw funds from his EPF account within 14 days, there was “no condition contingent upon his failure to comply”.
“It would be untenable for this court to imply such a condition,” she said.
“Given the responsibility for withdrawal of the EPF funds rested with the deceased, his failure to act necessitated action by the plaintiff, which she had not undertaken.”
In any event, she said, the court order expressly stated that the EPF funds were to be withdrawn “as arrears for maintenance, rather than as matrimonial asset”.
Consequently, Section 53A of the EPF Act did not apply as it pertains to matrimonial assets, she said.
The court held that the claim ran afoul of Section 51 of the EPF Act, which provides that “no amount standing to the credit of a member of the fund shall be assignable, transferable, liable to be attached, sequestered or levied upon”.