12 Oct 2022 2:34 PM GMT
The Delhi High Court has said that it is imperative for a court to look at a Will from the eyes of a layman rather than a lawman for reaching a final outcome.A division bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Saurabh Banerjee observed that it is the foremost duty of the Court to carefully give a purposeful meaning to the words and logical interpretation to the language used in a Will...
The Delhi High Court has said that it is imperative for a court to look at a Will from the eyes of a layman rather than a lawman for reaching a final outcome.
A division bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Saurabh Banerjee observed that it is the foremost duty of the Court to carefully give a purposeful meaning to the words and logical interpretation to the language used in a Will to infer and draw the real intention of the testator.
"A Will will be a Will only when it will lay to rest the wishes of who is at rest. We will endeavor to proceed so that the Will of who lays at rest is put to rest," the bench said in the beginning of its ruling dated October 11.
The court observed that as far as possible, all the clauses in a Will must be given equal importance, benefit and uniformity in conjunction with each other and not disjointly.
"The clauses in a Will are like Sailors on a ship sailing in the same direction. Each clause has an individual value like each Sailor has an individual role to play. Thus, a Will has to be harmoniously construed under all circumstances," said the court.
At the outset, the court noted that disputes regarding interpretation of a Will have been knocking the legal doors since time immemorial and though such doors have been successfully closed by numerous pronouncements, but, unfortunately the said issue will always be burning as there can be no closure to it.
Since a meaning is sought to be given to the testator's intention as to what he must have meant when he was alive while making the Will, due importance has to be given to the surrounding circumstances including the testator's background, status and relations with the family and society, the court said.
"The purpose must be to derive the real intention of the testator and recognize the dispositive rights of the beneficiaries for reaching a conclusion as far as practically possible. The Court is to look behind the cloak and lift the veil," it added.
Furthermore, the court observed that a Will has to be read as a whole, adding that any contradictions, inconsistencies or variations have to be brought to variance with each other on a level playing field.
"The intention ought to be inferred from the words and the language used in the Will without reading into them or drawing any preconceived notion and without tinkering with the basic structure of the Will for deciphering their true literal meaning. The words in the Will ought to be given a plain, simple and grammatical meaning as per Dictionary without any if(s) or but(s)," said the court.
The court also said some clause(s) in the Will are or can be overstepping on each other and as the same cannot be altered or no explanation can be sought from the testator.
"It should be made sure that such clause(s) do not trample upon each other so as to negate any one of them. In case the clause(s) are inconsistent and a divergent meaning is possible, the order of precedence should be followed, i.e., the more powerful/meaningful clause(s) is to take precedence over the less meaningful clause(s)," the bench said.
The court also opined that when a Will contains a clause bequeathing absolute rights, then the same cannot be followed by other clauses with restricted rights. It observed that an absolute right is an outright recognition which cannot be fettered by imposing a condition in the form of a restrictive right.
"Where words in a clause can be interpreted in more than one way, it would be in the interest of things to choose and give the best possible, plausible, constructive meaning in the overall interest of everybody so as to draw a "single straight line‟ with no breakers rather than falling back on something which is implausibly destructive against the interest of everybody. In such situations, the meaning which furthers the cause ought to be chosen rather than which goes against the cause," the court said.
It added, "The Court steps into the shoes of a kapellmeister and at the end of the day as everybody likes a melodious song, it is the duty of the Court to choose the music which is ears to the soul."
Furthermore, the bench observed that the words and clauses of the same Will must not be picked or chosen out of context, adding that all the words must be regarded as essential whereas all the clauses should be reconciled with each other and must be read together 'as being part and parcel of the same document'.
However, the court added that in case where it is not possible to do the same, a more beneficial interpretation should be adopted so as to bring a hiatus to the conflicting situation.
The court made the observations in a case related to a will declaring that the house shall belong to all the four children with each having 25 percent share in the property.
Title: VIKRANT KAPILA & ANR. v. PANKAJA PANDA & ORS.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Del) 958
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