Can A Will Be Challenged?

Law
30-Mar-2023
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A will is a legal document that specifies how a person's assets and property will be distributed after their death. In India, a will can be contested if there are disputes over its validity or the distribution of assets. In India, a will can be challenged, and the legal authority governing such challenges is primarily the Indian Succession Act, 1925. This Act delineates the rules and procedures related to the execution, revocation, and contestation of wills. If a will is successfully challenged, it may be declared invalid by the court.

Anyone with an interest in the will, such as beneficiaries, heirs, or creditors, can challenge its validity in court on various grounds such as lack of testamentary capacity, improper execution, fraud or forgery, or property disputes. It is important to seek legal advice when contesting a will in India as it can be a complex legal process.

In this article, we will explore these grounds in detail and discuss how they can be used to challenge the validity of a will in India.

Common Grounds On Which A Will Can Be Challenged In India

  • Lack of Capacity: A will can be challenged if the testator lacks the mental capacity to comprehend the implications of their actions during its creation. This may be influenced by factors like age, mental condition, or the use of medication.

  • Undue Influence & Fraud: The will may be contested if the testator was coerced, threatened, or unduly influenced, leading to a document that does not reflect their true intentions. Similarly, a will created through fraud or misrepresentation can be challenged, necessitating proof from the contesting party.

  • Mistake or Ambiguity: Errors or uncertainties in the will, whether in the testator's instructions or language, can be grounds for contesting its validity. This includes situations where the document's meaning is unclear or subject to interpretation.

  • Improper Execution: If a will lacks essential elements mandated by the Indian Inheritance Act 1925, such as proper signatures and witnessing by two individuals, it may be challenged for improper execution.

  • Coercion or Duress: Section 61 of the Indian Inheritance Act 1925 declares a will void if obtained under duress or undue influence, depriving the testator of free will. If coercion or deception played a role in the creation of the will, it can be contested as invalid.

  • Inconsistency with Indian Law: A will can be challenged if its terms are inconsistent with Indian laws. For instance, if the will attempts to disinherit a child or spouse in a way conflicting with legal protections, it may be deemed invalid.

  • Revocation: Section 62 of the Indian Succession Act of 1925 allows the testator to revoke or alter a will during their lifetime. This must be done voluntarily, following legal procedures. A new will or a codicil (an amendment to the original will) can revoke or alter the previous testamentary document.

  • Fraudulent Inducement: If a person is tricked into making or revoking a will based on false or misleading information, such as forged documents or misrepresented intentions, it can be contested on grounds of fraudulent inducement. If proven, the court may declare the will invalid.

Who can challenge the Will?

In India, anyone with a direct or indirect interest in the deceased's estate can challenge a will. This includes heirs, beneficiaries, and legal representatives. The challenger must have legal standing, valid grounds (like lack of capacity or undue influence), and file within the specified time frame due to statutes of limitations.

Here is a list of those who can challenge:

  • Heirs: Individuals who stand to inherit under intestacy laws if there is no valid will. They may challenge a will if they believe it does not accurately reflect the testator's true intentions, especially if they are disinherited or inadequately provided for.
  • Minors: In the case of minors, those who are named as beneficiaries in a will or would inherit in the absence of a will may challenge it. The court may appoint a guardian or legal representative to act on behalf of the minor's interests.
  • Next of Kin: Close relatives, such as parents, siblings, or a spouse, who are next in line to inherit under intestacy laws, can challenge a will. They may contest it if they believe the distribution of assets is unfair or not in accordance with legal provisions.
  • Creditors: Creditors of the deceased may challenge a will if they believe it adversely affects their ability to recover debts owed by the estate. They may seek to ensure that the deceased's obligations are met before the assets are distributed to beneficiaries.
  • Beneficiaries under a Previous Will: Individuals who were beneficiaries under a prior will may challenge a subsequent will that disinherits or provides less for them. They might contest the validity of the new will, especially if they suspect undue influence, coercion, or fraud in its creation.

Procedure for challenging a will in India?

  • Initiate Legal Proceedings under Section 18 of the Registration Act:  The process of challenging a will begins by filing a suit under Section 18 of the Registration Act. This involves formally submitting a legal petition to the appropriate court, outlining the grounds on which the will is being contested. The filing should include details about the testator, the will, and the reasons for challenging its validity. The specific court where the suit is filed depends on the jurisdiction and the value of the assets involved in the will.
  • Issue Vakalatnama to Appoint Legal Representation: Upon filing the suit, the next step is to issue a Vakalatnama, a legal document that grants authority to a chosen lawyer to represent the individual challenging the will in court. This formalizes the attorney-client relationship and enables the lawyer to act on behalf of their client during legal proceedings.
  • Payment of Court Fees: After appointing legal representation, the challenger is required to pay the necessary court fees as mandated by the court. These fees cover the costs associated with processing the legal challenge and are an essential part of initiating the legal action.
  • Court Acceptance and Notice Issuance: Once the court fees are paid, the case is officially accepted by the court. Subsequently, the court issues a notice to the opposite party, notifying them of the legal challenge and summoning them to appear in court on a specified date.
  • Submission of Necessary Documents: As the case progresses, the court may request the submission of various documents to support the challenge. These documents could include evidence of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, or any other grounds on which the will is being contested. It is crucial to comply with these requests promptly. The specific documents required can vary based on the nature of the case and the jurisdiction.
  • Court Proceedings and Decision: The case then proceeds to court hearings, where both parties present their arguments and evidence. If the court finds merit in the challenge and deems the will invalid, it may declare the will null and void. In such cases, the distribution of assets is governed by the applicable intestacy laws, determining the rightful heirs and their respective shares.

Conclusion

In a situation where a person is concerned about who will inherit all of their hard-earned money upon their death, it is crucial to consult with a will lawyer. Therefore, in a country like India, if a person finds the drafted will unsatisfactory, they have the right to challenge the registered will in court with the assistance of a will lawyer to ensure that no wrongdoing occurs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Challenging a Will

Q. What happens if a will is Successfully challenged in India?

If a will is successfully challenged in India, it may be declared invalid by the court. In such cases, the estate of the deceased will be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession, which determine how the property is to be distributed in the absence of a valid will. The distribution will typically be among the legal heirs of the deceased, as determined by the personal laws applicable to the deceased.

Q. What is the time limit for challenging a will in India?

In India, the time limit for contesting a will depends on the circumstances of the case and the grounds for contesting the will. If a will is challenged for fraud, misrepresentation, or undue influence, the time limit is generally three years from the date of the death of the testator or the date on which the fraud, misrepresentation, or undue influence arose. discovered, whichever is later. If a will is contested on other grounds, such as intestate, error, or improper execution, the law does not specify a specific time limit but recommends that the testator execute the will as soon as possible after death or once the grounds for discord are known. It is important to note that these time limits are not absolute and the courts have the discretion to extend the time limits in certain circumstances.  

Q. Can a will be challenged if it is registered?

Yes, a will can be challenged even if it is registered. Registration of a will does not necessarily make it immune to challenge. If there are grounds to believe that the will was created under undue influence, coercion, or fraud, or if the testator could not make the will, it can still be challenged regardless of its registration status. However, a registered will is presumed to be genuine unless there is sufficient evidence to the contrary, which means that it may be more difficult to challenge compared to an unregistered will.

Q. Can a will be challenged after the death of the testator?

Yes, a will can be challenged after the death of the testator. In India, a will can be challenged within a certain time frame, which varies from state to state. However, once the time for challenging the will has passed, it becomes final and binding.