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Article 14 not applicable to a will; Will's genuineness not based on whether distribution was fair and equitable

Article 14 not applicable to a will; Will's genuineness not based on whether distribution was fair and equitable

Swarnalatha Vs Kalavathy

Supreme Court

30/03/2022

CA 1565 of 2022

About/from the judgment:

The Supreme Court observed that the exclusion of one of the natural heirs from the bequest in a Will, cannot by itself be a ground to hold that there are suspicious circumstances.

"In the matter of appreciating the genuineness of execution of a Will, there is no place for the Court to see whether the distribution made by the testator was fair and equitable to all of his children. The Court does not apply Article 14 to dispositions under a Will.", the bench comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian remarked.

In this case, a probate granted to the appellant by the District Court in respect of two last Wills and Testaments, one by the father and another by the mother, was set aside by the Madras High Court. One of the suspicious circumstances, according to the High Court, was the total exclusion of the daughter from the bequest and the failure to mention in the Wills, the dates on which the daughter was paid certain amounts, are crucial.

In this regard, the Apex Court bench observed:

"When it was not even the case of the respondents that the testators were not in a sound and disposing state of mind, the High Court found fault with the appellants for not disclosing the nature of the ailments suffered by them. The exclusion of one of the natural heirs from the bequest, cannot by itself be a ground to hold that there are suspicious circumstances. The reasons given in Exhibit P­1 are more than convincing to show that the exclusion of the daughter has happened in a very natural way. If Exhibit P­1 (Will) had been fabricated on blank papers containing the signatures of the mother, there would have been no occasion for the father to make a mention in his own Will (Exhibit P­2) about the execution of the Will by the mother."

While allowing the appeal, the court made the following observations on the law relating to suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of a Will:

"It is enough if we make a reference to one of the recent decisions of this Court in Kavita Kanwar vs. Mrs. Pamela Mehta and Ors. where this Court referred to almost all previous decisions right from H. Venkatachala Iyengar vs. B.N. Thimmajamma . But cases in which a suspicion is created are essentially those where either the signature of the testator is disputed or the mental capacity of the testator is questioned. This can be seen from the fact that almost all previous decisions of this Court referred to in Kavita Kanwar (supra) list out circumstances, which in the context of the lack of sound and disposing state of mind of the testator, became suspicious circumstances. In the matter of appreciating the genuineness of execution of a Will, there is no place for the Court to see whether the distribution made by the testator was fair and equitable to all of his children. The Court does not apply Article 14 to dispositions under a Will."

Headnotes

Will - Suspicious Circumstances - The exclusion of one of the natural heirs from the bequest, cannot by itself be a ground to hold that there are suspicious circumstances - Cases in which a suspicion is created are essentially those where either the signature of the testator is disputed or the mental capacity of the testator is questioned - In the matter of appreciating the genuineness of execution of a Will, there is no place for the Court to see whether the distribution made by the testator was fair and equitable to all of his children. The Court does not apply Article 14 to dispositions under a Will. (Para 21,25)

Summary: Appeal against Madras HC order which set aside a probate granted to the appellant by the District Court in respect of two last Wills and Testaments - Allowed - Each one of the circumstances (recorded by the High Court), neither individually nor collectively creates a suspicion.

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