Will is a legal declaration of the intention of a testator through testamentary instrument with respect to his property, which he desires to be carried into effect after his death. It includes codicil and every document in writing making a voluntary posthumous disposition of property. A Will is ambulatory which may be amended or revoked during the lifetime of the testator of the Will.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court held that contents of the Will must indicate that it is intended to come into effect after death of testator and that it is revocable at any time prior to his death and a document cannot be treated as a Will by a mere reading of the heading of it; [Mandakini Naik v G.K. Naik, 2004 (3) ALT 829 (AP HC)].
A legacy through the Will lapses where the legatee dies before the testator. For instance, A makes a bequest of certain property in favour of B. However, B dies before A. The bequest, then, cannot naturally take effect and the legacy is said to have lapsed.
A legatee is liable to the creditors. He is liable to refund the legacy that he has received, irrespective of whether the assets of the testator’s estate are sufficient or not at the time of death of the testator to pay both debts and the legacies, as well as irrespective of whether the payment of legacy by the executor is voluntary or not.
A great weight is given to the wordings of a Will. A full effect must be given which is main part of operative portion of a Will in the light of declared wish of the testator as well as other provision of the Will. The court in any way has to interpret the words in their both ordinary and grammatical sense and simultaneously to give weight if there is absurdity or inconsistency. Hence, the whole of words should be taken together without any surmise in the light of the intention of testator. Where the maker includes additional words or phrases then it shall mean additional meaning. In order to ascertain the very material purpose of the Will, the court has to go through each and every word used by the testator in a Will.
Most of the people would like to dispose of their property according to their own wishes through a Will. A Will after death of person, reduces the confusion of sharing property amongst the family members and relatives.
In case a person dies without making a Will, he is said to have died intestate. His property shall be inherited to his legal heirs in accordance with the personal law applicable to him i.e. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, The Indian Succession Act, 1925, un-codified law of Muslims, Parsis etc.
Types of Wills:
1. Privileged and unprivileged Wills: Wills executed according to section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 are called unprivileged Wills and Wills executed according to section 66 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 by a soldier or airman or mariner employed in an expedition or engaged in actual warfare are called privileged Wills.
2. Conditional or contingent Wills: A will may be expressed to take effect only in the event of the happening of some contingency or condition, and if the contingency does not happen or the condition fails, the Will is not legally enforceable. A conditional will is void if the condition imposed is unlawful.
3. Joint Wills: A joint Will is a testamentary instrument whereby two or more persons agree to make a conjoint Will. Where a Will is joint, and is intended to take effect after the death of both, it will not be enforceable during the lifetime of either. Joint Wills are revocable at anytime by either of the testators during their joint lives, or after death of one, by the survivor.
A Will executed by two or more testators as a single document duly executed by each testator disposing of his separate properties or his joint properties is not a single Will. It operates on the death of each and is in effect for two or more Wills, on the death of each testator, the legatee would become entitled to the properties of the testator who dies.
4. Mutual Wills: A Will is mutual when two testators confer upon each other reciprocal benefits by either of them constituting the other his legatee. But when the legatees are distinct from the testators, there can be no position for Mutual Wills.
5. Duplicate Wills: A testator, for the sake of safety, may make a Will in duplicate, one to be kept by him and the other to be deposited in the safe custody with a bank or executor or trustee. If the testator mutilates or destroys the one which is in his custody it is revocation of both.
6. Concurrent Wills: Generally, a man should leave only one Will at the time of his death. However, for the sake of convenience a testator may dispose of some properties in one country by one Will and the other properties in another country by a separate Will.
7. Sham Wills: If a document is deliberately executed with all due formalities purporting to be a Will, it will still be nullity if it can be shown that the testator did not intend it to have any testamentary operation, but was to have only some collateral object. One thing must be borne in mind that the intention to make the Will is essential for the validity of the Will.
8. Holograph Wills: Such Wills are written entirely in the handwriting of the testator.
What can be bequeathed in a Will
All properties, movable or immovable of which the testator is the owner and which are transferable can be disposed of by a Will. Property which is not legally transferable cannot be bequeathed. If a person has only a life-interest in a property, he cannot make a Will in respect of it. A Hindu governed by Mitakshara law can bequeath his interest in the joint family property to any person he desires by means of a Will. But a female Hindu, in all cases, is entitled to dispose of her property without any restriction. In case of leasehold property, so long as lease does not expire, the bequest is effective. If the lease expires during the lifetime of a testator, no bequest is made.
The testator has no right to bequeath all the assets to an institution or a trust leaving his family and dependants in poverty and deprivation. The member’s of the testator’s family are entitled to claim maintenance from the estate of the testator.
Who can make a Will
According to section 5 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 every person of sound mind and not being a minor may dispose of his property by Will.
Proof and effect of Will
Probate is a certificate issued by court on the application of the executor appointed by a Will to the effect that the Will is valid. It is also the official evidence of the executor’s right to administer the estate of a deceased person.
Executor is a person to whom the execution of the last Will of a deceased person is, by the testator’s appointment, confided.
Letters of administration is granted when a person who had executed a legally valid Will dies without having named an executor and on application by one of the beneficiaries named in the Will. The procedure for grant of Letters of administration is more or less similar to that for the grant of probate.
To establish a right of an estate under the Will, a probate or Letters of administration granted by a competent court needs to be attached.
Execution of wills
Section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 provides that every testator other than a soldier or an airman or a mariner employed in an expedition or engaged in actual warfare must execute his Will according to the following rules:
He must sign or must affix his mark to the Will, or it must be signed by some other person in his presence and by his direction; and the signature or the mark of the testator, or the signature of the person signing for him, must be so placed that it shall appear that it was intended thereby to give effect to the writing as a Will. It is further provided that the Will must 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 of the signature of such other person; and each of such witnesses must sign the Will in the presence of the testator, but it is not necessary that more than one witness should be present at the same time. No particular form of attestation is necessary.
Applicability of Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, apply to Wills as to other documents and the court may draw the presumption under it in deciding whether the Will has been properly attested or not.
The executor is the most important person in the Will. Executor is defined in the Indian Succession Act, 1925, as a person to whom the execution of the last Will of a deceased person, is by the testator’s appointment confided. An executor is charged with the duty and conferred with the power to carry out the directions contained in the Will. He has to collect and realize the estate of the deceased, pay his debts and distribute the legacies.
The executor shall file the petition for obtaining probate of the Will. The court shall grant probate only to an executor who has been named in the Will.
The executor should not be minor. The executor should be younger than testator in age so that there is greater possibility of his outliving or surviving the testator.
In case the deceased has not appointed an executor then the court shall appoint one. Also in case the executor is incapable of or refuses to act or has predeceased the testator or the executor dies after having proved the Will but before administering all the estates of the deceased, the court shall appoint an administrator at the instance of interested person or persons.
Registration of Will
Registration of a Will is purely an optional matter. It is not compulsory at all. No inference can be drawn by the Court or any authority about the genuineness of a Will on the ground of its non-registration. Nor a Will can be accepted as genuine by courts even though it has been registered.