26 Jun 2023 6:30 AM GMT
The Tripura High Court has recently ruled that the responsibility of proving the execution of a Will, as well as addressing any doubts surrounding its validity, rests entirely on the person presenting the Will. The propounder must demonstrate the proper execution of the Will and convincingly dispel any doubts or suspicions surrounding its creation, it emphasised.“The burden of proof...
The Tripura High Court has recently ruled that the responsibility of proving the execution of a Will, as well as addressing any doubts surrounding its validity, rests entirely on the person presenting the Will. The propounder must demonstrate the proper execution of the Will and convincingly dispel any doubts or suspicions surrounding its creation, it emphasised.
“The burden of proof of execution of a Will as also the suspicious circumstances attached to execution of such Will always lies on the propounder of the Will who has to prove the due execution of Will and remove the suspicious circumstances from the mind of the court by cogent and satisfactory evidence”, Justice T. Amarnath Goud observed.
These expositions were made by the court while presiding over an appeal filed under Section-299 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 assailing a judgment passed by the District Judge of North Tripura, Dharmanagar on April 6, 2022.
The appellant, Smt. Niyati Das, was seeking redress against the rejection of her application for the probate of a will executed by the late Dhruba Kanti Gupta. According to the appellant, she had been residing permanently with Gupta and caring for him during his lifetime. In recognition of her dedicated service, Gupta allegedly executed a registered will on May 29, 1997, bequeathing all his movable and immovable properties, including financial assets, to Das.
However, following Gupta's demise on March 12, 2012, the appellant claimed that the respondents, the wife and children of the deceased had forcefully seized crucial documents, including those related to bank accounts, post office deposits, and landed properties. The appellant contended that the bitter relations between Gupta and his wife, son, and daughter led him to disinherit them and bestow his assets upon her.
The trial court had after hearing the parties at length rejected the appellant's probate application while questioning the execution dates mentioned in the Will. The trial court had also criticized the appellant's failure to provide a comprehensive list of assets and debts, attributing it to the alleged confiscation of documents by the respondents.
In the present appeal, the appellant challenged the lower court's decision, asserting that it misinterpreted the clauses of the Will and drew unfounded inferences. The appellant argued that the court below had failed to appreciate the circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will and wrongly faulted the appellant for not explaining the testator's intentions.
The respondents vehemently denied the authenticity of the Will. In their written statements, they disputed the appellant's claims and asserted that Gupta never executed any Will in her favor. They alleged that the appellant has presented falsified documents to obtain the probate. The respondents drew the attention of the court towards the irregularities and discrepancies in the appellant's actions, including delay in serving notices and discrepancies in the death certificate of Gupta.
Adjudicating upon the matter the Court raised concerns about the execution dates mentioned in the Will and presentation of the Will before the Sub-Registrar after 21 days. Observing that these factors potentially affect the validity of the Will, the bench said that there was no evidence to support the claim that the Will was executed in 1997. The court suspected the Will may have been executed under duress due to the deceased's old age and the appellant's role as a maid.
Highlighting the mental instability of the testator demonstrating that he was not sure whether he was going to take the correct decision or not regarding execution of the Will in question, the bench pointed towards the last part of the Will where it had been mentioned that only after the death of testator Dhruba Kanti Gupta the said Will would be effective and before that the testator Dhruba Kanti Gupta shall have right to cancel that Will at any time before his death.
Deliberating on the procedure to resolve the inconsistency in a Will where in the first part of his Will had bequeathed his all movable and immovable properties without giving details of the properties in favour of the appellant after death of the testator Dhruba Kanti Gupta but, in the last part of the Will he deserved his right alive for cancellation of the said Will at any point of time during his lifetime, the court explained that if a latter clause in the Will is inconsistent with the earlier clause and in such inconsistency, the last intention of the testator is to be given effect, therefore, the latter clause is held to prevail over the earlier clause of the Will.
“In the present case testator Dhruba Kanti Gupta in the first part of his Will had bequeathed his all movable and immovable properties without giving details of the properties in favour of the appellant after death of the testator Dhruba Kanti Gupta but, in the last part of the Will he deserved his right alive for cancellation of the said Will at any point of time during his lifetime”, the bench recorded.
Upon examining the material threadbare the court also found that the appellant woman had obtained a forged death certificate for the deceased as the death certificate stated that the deceased had died in a hospital, but he had actually died at home in the presence of the woman.
While affirming the findings of the Court below, the court concluded that there were too many suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will, and that it was therefore not possible to determine whether it was genuine.
Case Title: Smti. Niyati Das Vs Smti. Milan Debnath (Gupta) wife of late Dhruba Kanti Gupta
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Tri) 10
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