Limited estate given to hindu wife by way of will can become absolute u/s sec 14(1) Hindu Succession Act only if property was given for her maintenance

Limited estate given to hindu wife by way of will can become absolute u/s sec 14(1) Hindu Succession Act only if property was given for her maintenance

Jogi Ram Vs Suresh Kumar

Supreme Court

01/02/2022

CA 1543-1544 OF 2019

About/from the judgment:

The Supreme Court has held that Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act does not bar the bequeathing of a limited estate to a female by way of a Will; but if the limited estate is given to the wife for her maintenance, then it would mature into an absolute estate under Section 14(1) of the Act.

"The objective of Section 14(1) of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 cannot be that a Hindu male who owned self-acquired property is unable to execute a Will giving a limited estate to a female if all other aspects including maintenance are taken care of", the Court observed.

The Supreme Court has held that Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act does not bar the bequeathing of a limited estate to a female by way of a Will; but if the limited estate is given to the wife for her maintenance, then it would mature into an absolute estate under Section 14(1) of the Act.

"The objective of Section 14(1) of Hindu Succession Act, 1956 cannot be that a Hindu male who owned self-acquired property is unable to execute a Will giving a limited estate to a female if all other aspects including maintenance are taken care of", the bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh observed.

In appeal filed by Jogi Ram, the Apex Court bench noted the contents of the Will as follows:

The Will while conferring a limited estate on Ram Devi, Tulsi Ram had clearly stated that she will earn income from the property for her livelihood. The income, thus, generated from the property is what has been given for maintenance and not the property itself. That after the lifetime of Ram Devi, the appellant will get the ownership of the remaining half portion also. It is specified that in case Ram Devi pre-deceases Tulsi Ram, then all the properties would go absolutely to the appellant and that the other children will have no interest in the property.

What does Section 14 Hindu Succession Act say?

Section 14(1) provides that the any property possessed by a female Hindu, whether acquired before or after the commencement of the 1956 Act, shall be held by her as full owner thereof and not as a limited owner.

The Explanation to the Section clarifies that the "property" includes both movable and immovable property acquired by a female Hindu by inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other manner whatsoever, and also any such property held by her as stridhana immediately before the commencement of the Act.

Section 14 (2) states that nothing contained in sub-section (1) shall apply to any property acquired by way of gift or under a will or any other instrument or under a decree or order of a civil court or under an award where the terms of the gift, will or other instrument or the decree, order or award prescribe a restricted estate in such property.

The appellant contended that the life estate was not given to Ram Devi in lieu of recognition of any pre-existing right of Ram Devi or in lieu of maintenance and, thus, Section 14(2) of the said Act would apply and not Section 14(1) of the said Act. According to the respondents, the rights of a female Hindu post the said Act have been crystallised into absolute estate. Referring to the dictum in V. Tulasamma & Ors. v. Sesha Reddy (Dead) by LRs, the respondents contended that Ram Devi's estate became absolute.

The court noted the following observation made in the conclusion part of the judgment in V. Tulasamma case:

(4) Sub-section (2) of s. 14 applies to instruments, decrees, awards, gifts etc. which create independent and new titles in favour of the females for the first time and has no application where the instrument concerned merely seeks to confirm, endorse, declare or recognise pre-existing rights. In such cases a restricted estate in favour of a female is legally permissible and s. 14(1) will not operate in this sphere. Where, however, an instrument merely declares or recognises a pre-existing right, such as a claim to maintenance or partition or share to which the female is entitled, the sub-section has absolutely no application and the female's limited interest would automatically be enlarged into an absolute one by force of s. 14(1) and the restrictions placed, if any, under the document would have to be ignored. Thus where a property is allotted or transferred to a female in lieu of maintenance or a share at partition, the instrument is taken out of the ambit of sub- s. (2) and would be governed by s. 14(1) despite any restrictions placed on the powers of the transferee.

Taking note of the precedents, the Supreme Court observed:

"In our view the objective of sub-Section (2) above is quite clear as enunciated repeatedly by this Court in various judicial pronouncements, i.e., there cannot be a fetter in a owner of a property to give a limited estate if he so chooses to do including to his wife but of course if the limited estate is to the wife for her maintenance that would mature in an absolute estate under Section 14(1) of the said Act".

The Court further observed:

30. In our view the relevant aspect of the aforesaid conclusion is para 4 which opines where sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the said Act would apply and this does inter alia applies to a Will which may create independent and new title in favour of females for the first time and is not a recognition of a pre-existing right. In such cases of a restricted estate in favour of a female is legally permissible and Section 14(1) of the said Act will not operate in that sphere.

31. We may add here that the objective of Section 14(1) is to create an absolute interest in case of a limited interest of the wife where such limited estate owes its origin to law as it stood then. The objective cannot be that a Hindu male who owned self-acquired property is unable to execute a Will giving a limited estate to a wife if all other aspects including maintenance are taken care of. If we were to hold so it would imply that if the wife is disinherited under the Will it would be sustainable but if a limited estate is given it would mature into an absolute interest irrespective of the intent of the testator. That cannot be the objective, in our view.

The court noted that the testator in the present case, Tulsi Ram, had taken all care for the needs of maintenance of his wife by ensuring that the revenue generated from the estate would go to her alone.

"He, however, wished to give only a limited lift interest to her as the second wife with the son inheriting the complete estate after her lifetime. We are, thus, of the view that it would be the provisions of Section 14(2) of the said Act which would come into play in such a scenario and Ram Devi only had a life interest in her favour. The natural sequitur is that the respondents cannot inherit a better title than what the vendor had and, thus, the view taken by the trial court and the first appellate court is the correct view and the sale deeds in favour of the respondents cannot be sustained.", the court observed while allowing the appeal.

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