One of five different women who had children with a slain multimillionaire has failed to convince B.C.’s top court the pair had a spousal relationship that would entitle her to at least half of an estate worth up to $21 million.
B.C.’s Appeal Court upheld a lower court finding Thursday that the woman — known as Mother 1 — did not have a “marriage-like relationship” with Gang Yuan, a rich “playboy” chopped into 108 pieces after he was killed at a West Vancouver mansion in May 2015.
The ruling is the latest development in a court battle that has been ongoing since the first of a series of women stepped forward to file paternity suits against Yuan’s estate in the wake of his grisly death.
The stakes were high. Yuan died unmarried and without a will. If Mother 1 had succeeded in convincing the court to treat her as his spouse, she would have been entitled to at least half his fortune, with the other half going to his children.
As it stands, the children are entitled to share the total value of the estate between themselves.
‘He intended to live as a playboy’
Yuan’s killer, Li Zhao, was sentenced last year to 10 years and six months for manslaughter and interfering with human remains.
Zhao was married to Yuan’s cousin and the pair had spent years as friends and business partners in a farming venture in Saskatchewan.
According to trial testimony, Yuan had suggested he might marry Zhao’s beloved daughter and belittled a device he had invented for hunting.
The court heard Zhao struck Yuan with a hammer, shot him with a gun designed to kill vermin and then cut him up as he imagined he might a bear. The judge hearing the case described the circumstances as “unquestionably bizarre.”
The battle to divvy up Yuan’s estate was equally confounding. A second woman also made a spousal claim, but she settled during trial.
That left Mother 1 versus the administrators of Yuan’s estate and his five children.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elliott Myers, the judge who heard Mother 1’s claim in 2019, attached a spreadsheet to his ruling that set a chronology against columns listed for Mothers 1 through 5.
According to court records, Mother 1 met Yuan in 2004 in China when she was 16.
She lived in his parents’ home from the summer of 2004 until December of that year, when she left so Yuan could marry another woman to help him move to Canada in what a judge said was “clearly immigration fraud.”
Yuan divorced the other woman in 2007 and Mother 1 moved back in with his parents. They had a child in December 2008. But Yuan also had an apartment in Beijing where he spent time with other women.
Yuan supported Mother 1 financially and gave her gifts, but he also helped out the mothers of his other children.
At trial, the various mothers testified to the ways in which they found out about each other — and Yuan’s other love interests. Mother 5 found a numbered list containing the names, ages and cities of 68 women.
“There was no evidence of sexual intimacy between Mother 1 and Yuan ‘for years before’ his death,” the appeal court decision reads.
“The judge found that Yuan had no intention to live in a marriage‑like relationship with Mother 1. Instead, he intended to live as a ‘playboy’ without commitment to any one woman.”
A marriage-like relationship
In her appeal, Mother 1 claimed the lower court judge misinterpreted B.C.’s Wills, Succession and Estate Act, which says a spouse has to prove “a marriage‑like relationship for at least 2 years.”
The appeal court said the two-years in question wouldn’t have had to immediately precede Yuan’s death if neither party had terminated the relationship.
Myers concluded that they didn’t have a marriage-like relationship, and even if they had, Yuan ended it in 2011 or at the very latest 2014.
“Yuan had no commitment to or long‑term relationship with Mother 1 (or any of the other mothers) beyond looking after his children,” Myers wrote.
“I do not think that Mother 1 and Yuan lived in a marriage‑like relationship. To hold that otherwise would be to expand the concept of a marriage‑like relationship to such an extent that it would be rendered meaningless.”
The appeal court judges said they couldn’t fault Myers’ conclusions.
Mother 1 also claimed that “the judge overemphasized Yuan’s ‘philandering,’ ” and unfairly discounted her testimony, ignoring her relationship with his parents and the fact Yuan’s family considered them as husband and wife.
But the appeal court judges said there was a lot Mother 1 didn’t know about Yuan, including the details of his marriage for immigration, his business, his assets or any of his business associates.
“The judge expressly considered Mother 1’s intent,” the appeal court ruling says.
“However, he concluded that ‘whatever Mother 1’s intentions were,’ other evidence — including objective evidence of Yuan’s intentions as manifested by his conduct toward her — did not support a marriage‑like relationship.”