Chinese restaurant wins battle for woman's 10m bequest

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The owners of a Chinese restaurant in Essex will inherit 10m from "an upper class posh lady" who befriended them over several decades, after the High Court rejected a challenge brought by her relatives.

The five nephews and nieces of Golda Bechal, a millionaire property magnate who was 88 when she died in 2004, had said their aunt was mentally incapable when she made her will, in 1994.

But the judge, Sir Donald Rattee QC, held that Bechal, despite her failing memory, appreciated the effect of the will, in which she left a property fortune based on commercial premises to Kim Sing Man and his wife Bee Lian Man, the owners of the Lian restaurant in Witham, Essex.

Sir Donald said: "In my judgment, on the balance of probabilities, Mrs Bechal had testamentary capacity. The will executed by Mrs Bechal in August 1994 was valid."

The court heard that the Man family rented the premises for their restaurant from Bechal and her late husband. After that, a strong friendship blossomed, and the couples spent Christmases and holidays together. Bethal was said to be lonely after the death of her husband, Simon, and also that of their son, Peter, at 28. She grew close to the Chinese couple, who have three children and live in Great Leighs. She became "part of the family".

Kim Sing Man would regularly bring Bechal's favourite Cantonese dish of pickled leeks to her home in Grosvenor Square, London, when he came to the capital to buy supplies for the restaurant. But the couples would often get together socially, too. Man described Bechal as "an upper-class posh lady" who always dressed well and "always enjoyed her Chinese pickled leeks and bean sprouts, which I bought for her".

Bechal had a strained relationship with her surviving family members, once describing them as a "bunch of hooligans", according to Mr Man, 53. Under cross-examination, he said the relatives were after her money. The claim was made by Bechal's five nephews and nieces, Sandra Blackman, Barbara Green, Laurence Lebor, Louise Barnard and Mervyn Lebor.

They had claimed that, even if their aunt understood the effect of making a will, she didn't understand her own wealth. But the judge rejected this, and said he believed Mr Man's denial that he had been with Bechal when she had drawn up her will on a Barclays Bank form.

"And I am satisfied by the evidence that Mrs Bechal understood that she had a substantial property portfolio," the judge said.

After the hearing, Damon Parker, representing the Mans, said: "We are delighted with this result. This has been about a friend's right to leave money as she wanted."

Bee Lian Man said Bechal was "a very kind lady to us, generous and warm. We appreciate what she has done for us. We were both very fond of her and my relationship with her was like a mother and daughter."

Asked how the result would affect them, Kim Sing Man said: "It will make no difference. Life goes on as normal."