1 Dec 2023 5:30 AM GMT
The Bombay High Court dismissed a 20-year-old testamentary suit regarding the estate of actor Pooja Bedi's uncle -Bipin Gupta - after Bedi and her aunts proved that the impugned 'Will,' bequeathing everything to a trust, was a “sham and bogus.”Justice Milind dismissed a petition filed by Vasant Sardal seeking to execute Gupta's alleged Will dated September 4, 2003. Sardal was one of the...
The Bombay High Court dismissed a 20-year-old testamentary suit regarding the estate of actor Pooja Bedi's uncle -Bipin Gupta - after Bedi and her aunts proved that the impugned 'Will,' bequeathing everything to a trust, was a “sham and bogus.”
Justice Milind dismissed a petition filed by Vasant Sardal seeking to execute Gupta's alleged Will dated September 4, 2003. Sardal was one of the two executors of the Will and a co- trustee of the organisation that stood to gain from the Will.
However, the property will now be distributed amongst Gupta's legal heirs: his two sisters, Ashita Tham and Monica Uberoi & to his niece, Bedi, on behalf of her mother.
The estate includes tenancy rights in a flat in Firdaus Building, an Art Deco structure, a flat in the Neel Tarang building in Mahim, a two-acre plot in Panchgani, bank balances, investments in shares and bonds, and valuables in his possession.
“In the Will, an obscure bequest is made to charity in the name of a charitable Trust to be controlled by the two Executors who are complete strangers and third parties and not even closely related to the testator, Mr. Bipin Gupta. Thus, there is an indirect bequest in favour of the Executors and one of the attesting witnesses namely Mr. Anil Sardal (Vasant's son), a police officer, who appears to be the master mind of this entire conspiracy,” the court said.
According to the petition, Gupta executed the Will on June 20, 2003, while undergoing treatment at Bombay Hospital for renal failure. He passed away subsequently on September 4, 2003.
One Behram Ardeshir and Vasant Sardal were cited as executors of the Will and Sardal's son Anil, a cop at the time and one advocate Santosh Raje signed as witnesses.
In 2018, the court removed Sardal as co-executor of the Will. Ardeshir later renounced his executorship, stating that Sardal and his son Anil “had a clear intention of usurping the estate of the deceased.”
However, as per the Will, the executors were to set up a trust in Gupta's wife, Pushpa Gupta's name. All the properties were bequeathed to the trust, automatically giving the trustees full control of them: Sardal, one of the beneficiaries, filed for probate of the Will.
The court refused to accept the genuineness of the Will.
The bench pointed out the four essential ingredients of a valid Will. First, the testator signed the Will out of his own free Will; he was of sound mind at the time, he was aware of what he was doing, and the Will was not executed under any suspicious circumstances.
The judge pointed out that the first problem was the absence of a date from the will. “…There is a serious doubt and suspicion whether the purported Will was even executed on 20.06.2003.”
Court held that the testator's treating doctor neither made an attesting witness nor did he testify to the soundness of the testator. It was an obscure bequest to a Charity controlled by complete strangers, the Court observed,
The court further wondered how the typed Will reached the hospital where Gupta was undergoing treatment. Moreover, the dispositions in the Will are “unnatural and obscure,” it said.
“…Original Petitioner and his son who is one of the attesting witness are direct beneficiaries from the Will. This suspicion is fortified in view of the second executor who has renounced his executorship not once but twice and has stated on affidavit that the other executor Mr. Vasant Sardal and the second attesting witness Mr. Anil Sardal, both Police Officers, one retired and another serving had a clear intention of usurping the estate of the testator Mr. Bipin Gupta,” it held.
The court noted that the other attesting witness to the Will said Anil requested him to be a witness as Gupta wanted to give everything to Charity. This meant that Anil was aware of the Will's contents before it reached the hospital. It observed:
“Serious doubts and suspicions have arisen with respect to the genuineness and the validity of the alleged Will…the disposition of the estate in the Will appears to be unnatural and wholly unfair… most importantly the propounder himself (original Petitioner) having played a prominent role in execution of the Will through his son (Mr. Anil Sardal) which confers a substantial benefit on them.”
Court was of the view that the Will appeared disjunctive as, despite half of page 2 being blank, the Will was only executed on page 3.
Lastly, the court said it was unnatural for Gupta to have excluded his sisters from the will.
Accordingly, the HC directed the police to transfer all movable assets to Bedi and her aunts after taking necessary undertakings from them.
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