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law of Wills

Understaing the law of wills is important .A   Will   is   an   instrument   of   testamentary   disposition   of property. Therefore it  important that due execution of the will takes place without any undue influence or any suspicious circumstances and also that the person executing the will is of sound mind at the time of execution of the will. There is a mandatory provision of two attesting witnesses being present at the time the testator signs the will. That they are capable to deposing that the will was duly executed.

 

The Supreme Court in In  MEENA PRADHAN & ORS. V. KAMLA PRADHAN & ANR, CIVIL APPEAL NO.3351 OF 2014,   laid  down certain principles required for proving the validity and execution of the Will. In substance, these principles enunciated that apart from statutory compliance under Section 63 of the Succession Act, broadly, it has to be proved that

(a) the testator signed the Will out of his own free Will,

(b) at the time of execution, he had a sound state of mind,

(c) he was aware of the nature and effect thereof and

(d) the Will was not executed under any suspicious circumstances.

 

 “Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925

Execution   of   unprivileged   wills­ Every testator, not  being  a soldier employed in an expedition or engaged in actual warfare, or an airman so employed or engaged, or a mariner at sea, shall execute his Will according to the following rules:­

  • The testator shall sign or shall affix his mark to the Will, or it shall be signed by some other person in his presence and by his direction.
  • The signature or mark of the testator, or the signature of the person signing for him, shall be so placed that it shall appear that it was intended thereby to give effect to the writing as a Will.
  • The Will shall be attested by two or more witnesses, each of whom has seen the testator sign or affix his mark to the Will or has seen some other person sign the Will, in the presence and by the direction of the testator, or has received from the testator a personal   acknowledgement   of   his   signature   or   mark,   or   the signature of such other person; and each of the witnesses shall sign the Will in the presence of the testator, but it shall not be necessary that more than one witness be present at the same time, and no particular form of attestation shall be necessary.

 

Section 68 of Indian Evidence Act 1872

Proof   of   Execution   of   document   required   by   law   to   be attested­ If a document is required by law to be attested, it shall not be used as evidence until one attesting witness at least has been called for the purpose of proving its execution, if there be an attesting witness alive, and subject to the process of the Court and capable of giving evidence: xxx”

 

Thus, a bare reading of the above­mentioned provisions would show  that the  requirements enshrined under Section 63 of  the Succession   Act   have   to   be   categorially   complied   with   for   the  execution of the Will to be proven in terms of Section 68 of the Evidence Act.

 

A   Will   is   an   instrument   of   testamentary   disposition   of property. Therefore it  important that due execution of the will takes place without any undue influence or any suspicious circumstances and also that the person executing the will is of sound mind at the time of execution of the will. There is a mandatory provision of two attesting witnesses being present at the time the testator signs the will. That they are capable to deposing that the will was duly executed.

 

It   is   a   legally   acknowledged   mode   of   bequeathing   a testator’s property during his lifetime to be acted upon on his/her death and carries with it an element of sanctity. It speaks from the death of the testator. Since the testator/testatrix, at the time of testing the document for its validity, would not be available for deposing as to the circumstances in which the Will came to be executed,   stringent   requisites   for   the   proof   thereof   have   been statutorily enjoined to rule out the possibility of any manipulation.

 

we can deduce/infer the following principles required for proving the validity and execution of the Will:

 

  1. The court has to consider two aspects: firstly, that the Will is executed by the testator, and secondly, that it was the last Will executed by him;
  2. It   is   not   required   to   be   proved   with   mathematical accuracy,   but   the   test   of   satisfaction   of   the   prudent mind has to be applied.
  • A Will is required to fulfil all the formalities required under Section 63 of the Succession Act, that is to say:  (a) The testator shall sign or affix his mark to the Will or it shall be signed by some other person in his presence and by his direction and the said signature or affixation shall show that it was intended to give effect to the writing as a Will;

 

(b) It is mandatory to get it attested by two or more witnesses, though no particular form of attestation is necessary;

(c) Each of the attesting witnesses must have seen the testator sign or affix his mark to the Will or has seen some other person sign the Will, in the presence and by the direction of the testator, or has received from the testator a personal acknowledgment of such signatures;

(d) Each of the attesting witnesses shall sign the Will in the presence of the testator, however, the presence of all witnesses at the same time is not required;

 

  1. For the purpose of proving the execution of the Will, at least one of the attesting witnesses, who is alive, subject to the process of court, and capable of giving evidence, shall be examined;
  2. The attesting witness should speak not only about the testator’s signatures but also that each of the witnesses had signed the will in the presence of the testator;
  3. If one attesting witness can prove the execution of the Will, the examination of other attesting witnesses can be dispensed with;
  • Where one attesting witness examined to prove the Will fails to prove its due execution, then the other available attesting witness has to be called to supplement his evidence;
  • Whenever there exists any suspicion as to the execution of the Will, it is the responsibility of the propounder to remove   all   legitimate   suspicions   before   it   can   be accepted as the testator’s last Will. In such cases, the initial onus on the propounder becomes heavier
  1. . ix. The   test   of   judicial   conscience   has   been   evolved   for dealing with those cases where the execution of the Will is surrounded by suspicious circumstances. It requires to consider factors such as awareness of the testator as to the content as well as the consequences, nature and effect of the dispositions in the Will; sound, certain and disposing state of mind and memory of the testator at the time of execution; testator executed the Will while acting on his own free Will;
  2. One who alleges fraud, fabrication, undue influence et cetera   has   to   prove   the   same.   However,   even   in   the absence of such allegations, if there are circumstances giving rise to doubt, then it becomes the duty of the propounder to dispel such suspicious circumstances by giving a cogent and convincing explanation
  3. Suspicious circumstances must be ‘real, germane and valid’ and not merely ‘the fantasy of the doubting mind’1 . Whether   a   particular   feature   would   qualify   as ‘suspicious’   would   depend   on   the   facts   and circumstances of each case. Any circumstance raising suspicion   legitimate   in   nature   would   qualify   as   a suspicious   circumstance   for   example,   a   shaky signature,   a   feeble   mind,   an   unfair   and   unjust disposition of property, the propounder himself taking a leading part in the making of the Will under which he receives a substantial benefit, etc.

In short, apart from statutory compliance, broadly it has to be proved that (a) the testator signed the Will out of his own free Will, (b) at the time of execution he had a sound state of mind, (c) he was aware of the nature and effect thereof and (d) the Will was not executed under any suspicious circumstances

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