This Case Comment ‘V. Prabhakara v. Bhasavaraj K (Dead) by LR. & Anr. (2021)’ by A. Niharica is one of the landmark judgments of the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court while dealing with the validity of the will observed that mere exclusion of the sibling per se from the Will would not create any kind of suspicion… Read More »

This Case Comment ‘V. Prabhakara v. Bhasavaraj K (Dead) by LR. & Anr. (2021)’ by A. Niharica is one of the landmark judgments of the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court while dealing with the validity of the will observed that mere exclusion of the sibling per se from the Will would not create any kind of suspicion unless it is surrounded by any other suspicious circumstances. The Supreme Court opined testamentary court as a Court of Conscience. Supreme Court...

This Case Comment ‘V. Prabhakara v. Bhasavaraj K (Dead) by LR. & Anr. (2021)’ by A. Niharica is one of the landmark judgments of the Supreme Court where the Supreme Court while dealing with the validity of the will observed that mere exclusion of the sibling per se from the Will would not create any kind of suspicion unless it is surrounded by any other suspicious circumstances. The Supreme Court opined testamentary court as a Court of Conscience. Supreme Court elaborated discussed that the first appellate court cannot decide any case just depending on moral grounds only.

Will” is the legal declaration of the intention of a testator (one who makes the will and whose property is concerned) with respect to his property which he desires to be carried into effect after his death.[1] If one has to deal with the self-acquired property’s distribution then he makes a will stating how his property has to be apportioned. The present case deals with some aspects of a Will. This work summarizes the facts and judgment of the case and brief analysis of the opinion expressed by the various courts

Court: The Supreme Court of India

Date: October 7th, 2021

Bench: Justice SK Kaul, MM Sundresh

Citation: LL 2021 SC 556

Appellant: V Prabhakara

Respondent(s): Basavaraj K (Dead) by LR and Another

Facts of the case

  1. One Jessie Jayalakshmi (the testator) bequeathed her property to her nephew cum adopted son (Appellant in this case and beneficiary of the Will) by way of a ‘will’. The ‘will’ was registered at the Office of the Sub-Registrar in the presence of one Ms. Kantha Lakshmi (sister of the beneficiary) and it was attested by one Mr. Vijay Kumar (brother of the beneficiary). It was executed on 4th September 1985.
  2. On a later date, due to strained relations, a divorce decree was obtained by the couple of Ms. Kantha Lakshmi and her husband (Respondent no. 1 in the case). Respondent no.1 and his son (Respondent no.2 in the case) started residing in the suit property to which the appellant consented and paid all the statutory dues. Later the respondents denied vacating the suit property so the appellant filed a suit for the declaration and his possession which was decreed on 11th November 2003.
  3. The respondents set up a plea for dismissal of the suit by introducing an alleged subsequent unregistered Will by the original testator. It was said to have been executed on 16th August 1996. It was said that the subsequently executed ‘will’ nullified the former one. It was also contended by Respondent no.1 that their divorce decree has not been given effect.

At the trial court

The trial court upheld the suit after being satisfied that the former ‘will’ (produced by the appellant) is valid as it satisfied the requisites of the law.[2] The validity of the will produced by the respondent was doubted in various groups like the smudged thumb impression, nature of recitals and signature being suspicious, a stamp bearing the date of Independence Day (15th August 1986), execution of the ‘will’ being before a week to the testator’s death.

Issues framed by the Trial Court

  1. Does Plaintiff prove to have acquired title to the suit property by virtue of the Will 04.09.1985 executed by late Jessie Jayalakshmi?
  2. Does he prove that the Will dated 16.08.1996 executed by Jessie Jayalakshmi is a fabricated and forged document?
  3. Does he prove that Defendant is in occupation of the scheduled property as licensee free of charges?
  4. Whether the Plaintiff has the cause of action for the suit?
  5. Is the suit barred by limitation?
  6. What order or decree the parties are entitled to?

At the High Court

The High Court reaffirmed the decision of the Trial Court with respect to the suspicion it had on the subsequent ‘will’. But the court entertained a suspicion regarding the former Will as it was of opinion that there was no logic in the testator excluding the name of the beneficiary’s sister (wife of respondent no. 1) even after she was bought to the Sub-Registrar’s office during registration of the ‘will’.

At the Supreme Court of India

An appeal was filed by the original plaintiff at the Apex Court of India. Several arguments were raised by both parties.

Contentions of Both the Parties

  • Contentions of Appellant

It was argued by the counsel for the plaintiff/appellant that the former Will produced is a registered one and the fact that the wife of the respondent accompanied the testator to the office for the registration of the Will and it could not raise any objection would convey the fact that it has been executed properly.

It was also argued that the High Court created its own suspicion (which was not raised by the Trial Court) and ought to have upheld the decree and judgment of the Trial Court.

  • Contentions of the Respondent

It was contended by the counsel for the respondents that the question as to if there exists a suspicious circumstance is a question of fact that cannot be adjudicated by invoking Article 136 of the Constitution of India. Relying on a judgment the counsel submitted that the first appellate court had got adequate jurisdiction to satisfy itself on the ground of suspicion surrounding the case.

Observations of the Supreme Court

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has opined on the following aspects:-

  • If the Will is executed on 4th September 1985, it is vulnerable to suspicion

The court opined that the first appellate court should have considered the relevant material instead of opting for some ethical reasoning. The mere exclusion of the siblings would not per se make the Will open to suspicion unless accompanied by other suspicious circumstances. In the present case, the fact that the sister of the beneficiary had accompanied the testatrix and that the brother of the beneficiary has attested to the Will would make no room for suspicion as neither of them raised an issue.

  • Is the suspicion entertained by the High Court valid?

Execution of the former Will has not been disputed by the respondents and the latter Will also specifies the former one as a validly made one. The presence of the sister of the Appellant during the registration of the Will was also misconstrued as in reality it added strength to the fact of validity of the former Will. The respective participation of the siblings of the appellant and their subsequent conduct gives no room for the presence of any suspicious circumstances with respect to the validity of the former Will. The court opined that the exercise by the High Court is neither necessary nor permitted by law.

  • Can the appellant approach the Apex Court on the issue?

The court stated that the existence or non-existence of suspicious circumstances is a matter of fact, but when the High Court acted contrary to law then the Supreme Court has to interfere with the decree and judgment of the appellate court.

Judgment

The decree and judgment of the first appellate Court were set aside. The judgment and decree of the Trial Court were restored.

Some of the key observations:-

  • Mere exclusion of the sibling from the Will doesn’t per se make it vulnerable to suspicion

A ‘Will’ is a tool for a person for executing his/her own will of mind. Under the law, a person is given the liberty to distribute self-acquired property (with some restrictions in Muslim law) in the way he wishes to do so. In some circumstances, a person may include only one of them (or some of the) siblings as beneficiaries of the property while excluding the others. There may be varied and solid reasons for the same (for instance – the excluded siblings being negligent about the testator during his lifetime).

If the exclusion of siblings would make a Will susceptible to suspicion then the liberty which is given by law to a person with respect to the self-acquired property would be endangered and the intention of the law would be defeated. The observation made by the court would shield the liberty that a person has over his self-acquired property.

  • If the admission of execution is clear and unequivocal. There isn’t any need to prove it while taking judicial notice

It was said by the court that

“In a case where a party admits the execution of a document in the nature of a Will which is otherwise proved in accordance with Section 63 and Section 68 of the Indian Succession Act and Indian Evidence Act respectively, it becomes a relevant fact duly proved, in the absence of any discretion by the court.”

In this case, a claim was made based on revocation of an earlier Will which was indicated in the subsequent Will. This acknowledgment of the former Will would be a part of ‘conduct’ (relevant the fact).

The Apex Court in the case made it clear that when the execution is unequivocal (excluded siblings not raising any issue) then the document need not be proved again. This observation by the apex court would ward off unnecessary delay (which may be caused when ‘proving of facts’ is necessitated as was the case when the High Court raised a suspicion) that might engulf the process of justice. This also lets the gist Appellate Court stay in its respective position by not interfering with the aspects of the trial, which a trial court ought to do.

  • Findings of the trial court can interfere only when there is conflict in oral evidence by witnesses

The court in the case took note of a precedent[3] where it was held that the appellant court could only interfere with the findings only when there is a conflict in the oral evidence of the witness and such conflict would hinder the decision as a whole. But in the present case, there is no such conflict with respect to the validity of the former Will as no issue was raised by any of the parties regarding the same. But the High Court entertained a suspicion which shall not be encouraged.

The observation by the Apex Court by citing the particular case law would guard the primacy a trial court is given by law vis-a-vis findings on the question of fact. This would also protect the federal structure that our judiciary ought to have.

  • Testamentary Court is not a court of suspicion but a court of conscience

The Apex Court stated that

“ it (the High Court) has to consider the relevant materials instead of adopting an ethical reasoning.

The High Court in this case took a sensitive moral approach in suspecting the exclusion of siblings from the Will which it shouldn’t have as our courts are courts of law and not only courts of ethics.

Conclusion

Law is an aspect of society that fortifies the people but also puts some burden on them. We have rights and obligations. We have liberty and limitations. This liberty given by law shall not be curtailed without a warranty by the law. The decision by the Court, in this case, protects the liberty of writing a Will of one’s wish. It also reminded the courts not to take a subjective route by adopting ethical reasoning so as to retain the objective essence of the law.


[1] Indian Succession Act, 1908, Available Here

[2] Compendium of Case Laws, Available Here

[3] Sarju Pershad v. Jwaleshwari, Pratap Narain Singh [AIR 1951 SC 120]


Updated On 2022-04-14T12:31:24+05:30
A. Niharica

A. Niharica

Sultan-Ul-Uloom College of Law

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