SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS THE VALIDITY OF A WILL AS THE SAME WAS PROVED UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF THE INDIAN SUCCESSION ACT 1925
A Two Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Sanjay Karol passed a Judgment dated 21-09-2023 in the matter of Meena Pradhan & Ors. vs. Kamla Pradhan & Anr. Civil Appeal No. 3351 / 2014 and observed that the execution of a Will, once the Testator has passed away, is subject to stringent regulations, as it is aimed at preventing any unauthorized modifications. These regulations are stipulated by law and must be adhered to in order to ensure the legal efficacy of the document.
(i) That the aforesaid Appeal filed before the Apex Court by one, Meena Pradhan, Ravi Kumar, and Sushma Bhargava (Appellants) against Kamla Pradhan and Kumari Ritu (Respondents), challenged the decision of the Hon’ble High Court of Madhya Pradesh, at Jabalpur (High Court), which had refused to consider the accusation of forgery and illegality regarding a Will and thereby, upheld the Order of the Ld. Jabalpur Civil Court in a Succession Case, which granted Letters of Administration to the Testator’s second wife and her family.
(ii) That one, Bahadur Pradhan (Testator) married Smt. Meena Pradhan (Defendant 2 / Appellant No.1) and had two children, Ravi Kumar (Defendant 3 / Appellant No.2) and Ku. Sushma (Defendant 4 / Appellant No.3). That allegedly, the Testator divorced his first wife and subsequently married Smt. Kamla Pradhan (Plaintiff 1 / Respondent No.1), who gave birth to a child namely Ku. Ritu (Plaintiff 2 / Respondent No.2).
(iii) Thereafter, the Testator executed a Will on 30.07.1992, just seven days before his death on 07.08.1992. He did so in the presence of two witnesses, one, Lok Bahadur Thapa (not examined) and one, Suraj Bahadur Limboo (PW2).
(iv) Subsequently, after the Testator’s demise, the Plaintiffs filed a case to claim the Testator’s dues. Thereafter, a Succession Certificate was issued in favour of the Respondent No.1 by Ld. VI Additional District Judge, Jabalpur (Civil Court) on 05.07.1995.
(v) However, this decision was later reversed by the High Court vide Order dated 17.11.1995, which quashed the proceedings and determined that the authenticity and genuineness of the Will required assessment in appropriate proceedings.
(vi) Subsequently, both Plaintiffs initiated proceedings under Section 276 of the Indian Succession Act 1925 (Petition for Probate) to obtain a grant of Probate or Letter of Administration. Thereafter, in response, the Defendants challenged the execution of the Will and raised objections regarding the Testator’s marriage to Plaintiff No.1.
(vii) The Civil Court in its Order dated 11.12.2001, in Succession Case No. 22/98, upheld the validity of the Will in favour of the Plaintiffs-beneficiaries. This decision relied upon the testimony of an attesting witness, Suraj Bahadur Limboo (PW2). Subsequently, the Civil Court issued Letters of Administration.
(viii) Aggrieved by the Order passed by the Civil Court, the Defendants challenged the same before the High Court, and subsequently the High Court, in its judgment, affirmed the validity of the Will and dismissed the Defendant’s claim of forgery. The High Court confirmed the Civil Court’s decision, upholding the authenticity and validity of the Will.
CIVIL COURT FINDINGS:
(I) That the Court found that the Will had been executed in accordance with the provisions of Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (Execution of unprivileged Wills). Further, the Civil Court noted that the Testator had affixed his signature or mark in the Will, and two or more witnesses had attested the Will in the presence of the Testator.
(II) Thereafter, the Civil Court determined that the Testator had signed the Will voluntarily and was in a sound mental state at the time of its execution. The Court further established that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of the Will, and the allegations made by the Defendants, such as claims of second marriage and bigamy, were deemed irrelevant to the central issue of the Will’s validity.
HIGH COURT FINDINGS:
Aggrieved by the Order dated 11.12.2001 passed by the Civil Court, Jabalpur, of Madhya Pradesh, the Appellant filed a Misc. Appeal No. 382/2002 before the Hon’ble High Court Of Madhya Pradesh, (Jabalpur). The Hon’ble High Court vide Order dated 25.03.2010 made the following observations:
a) In its observations, the High Court meticulously examined the validity of the Will in question. It placed significant reliance on the proceedings and findings of the Civil Court, particularly highlighting the crucial role played by the attesting witness, Suraj Bahadur Limboo (PW2). Further, the High Court affirmed the Civil Court’s determination that the Will had been executed in accordance with the legal formalities mandated by Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. This included the requisite affixation of the Testator’s signature or mark and the attestation by witnesses, underscoring the strict adherence to legal procedures.
b) Furthermore, the High Court echoed the Civil Court’s ruling concerning the Testator’s testamentary capacity. It concurred with the finding that the Testator had been of sound mind during the execution of the Will, having willingly signed the document and possessing the necessary mental acumen to comprehend its implications. Subsequently, the High Court also emphasized the absence of any suspicious circumstances surrounding the Will’s execution, thereby concurring with the Civil Court’s conclusion that there had been no undue influence or coercion involved. Ultimately, the High Court’s observations served to reinforce the validity of the Will and upheld the meticulous legal process that had been followed in its execution.
SUPREME COURT OBSERVATIONS
Aggrieved by the Order dated 25.03.2010 passed by the Hon’ble High Court Of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur, the Appellant filed a Civil Appeal No. 3351/2014 before the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 10.06.2010. The Apex Court, in its observations, addressed the central issue which are as follows:
A) Whether the Will executed by the Testator, met the legal requirements, particularly compliance with Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925.
B) Whether, the Testator, possessed the necessary mental capacity and was of sound mind during the Will’s execution, including an understanding of its consequences.
C) Whether the Court needed to examine if any suspicious circumstances surrounded the Will’s execution, potentially casting doubt on its validity, and whether these circumstances had been adequately addressed.
D) Whether the Court had to determine the relevance of allegations concerning a second marriage and bigamy in the broader context of the case.
(1) That Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that the Will had been executed in strict adherence to the legal formalities outlined in Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. It duly recognized the presence of the Testator’s Signature on the Will, coupled with its attestation by witnesses, as stipulated by legal requirements.
(2) Further, the Apex Court concurred with the Lower Courts’ assessments, affirming that the Testator, had been in a sound state of mind at the time of executing the Will. It endorsed the finding that Bahadur Pradhan had willingly and independently signed the Will, demonstrating a clear understanding of its implications.
(3) Thus, the Supreme Court resonated the consistent findings of the Lower Courts regarding the absence of any suspicious circumstances encircling the execution of the Will. Further, the Bench reaffirmed that the Will had not been tainted by undue influence or coercion, thereby upholding its validity.
(4) Furthermore, recognizing the pivotal role of witness testimony, the Court highlighted the significance of Suraj Bahadur Limboo’s (PW2) attestation as one of the witnesses. This attesting witness’s testimony had played a crucial role in substantiating the authenticity and legality of the Will.
(5) Hence, the Court reiterated its stance on the dismissal of allegations made by the Defendants, including claims of second marriage and bigamy. Finally, the Bench stressed that these allegations bore no relevance to the central issue of the Will’s validity, further reinforcing its sound legal standing.
Thus, based on aforesaid observations, the Apex Court’s judgment in this case revolved around a dispute concerning the validity of a Will executed by Bahadur Pradhan. After thorough consideration of the evidence and legal arguments presented, the Supreme Court upheld the findings of the Lower Courts, thus affirming the Will’s validity. The Bench confirmed the validity of the Testator’s Will, emphasizing the importance of legal formalities outlined in Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. The Courts found no suspicious circumstances and dismissed unrelated allegations, such as claims of second marriage and bigamy, emphasizing their irrelevance to the core issue of Will’s validity.
The Apex Court upheld the Lower Courts’ decision to validate the Will, and as a result, the Appeal was dismissed. Notably, the Court refrained from addressing allegations of bigamy and a second marriage, as these matters were deemed irrelevant to the primary issue of determining the Will’s legality.
The Indian Lawyer