A Will or a testament is a legal document by which a person, who is known as the testator, expresses his wishes as to how his property is required to be distributed after his death. The testator also appoints one or more person, who is known as the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution. A Will acts as a legal document which is used for transferring the property and other possessions of the testator after his death. The definition of the Will is mentioned under section 2 (h) of the Indian Succession Act 1925 which reads as follows: Will as a legal declaration of the intention of a testator with respect to his property which he desires to be carried into effect after his death. A testator should be at least 18 years of age and above. He must be of sound mind and must have testamentary capacity. In case if the Will is not written/typed in the testator’s handwriting, then he must sign the Will. Also, the Will is required to be attested by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries in such Will and who were present at the time when the testator has signed his Will. One of the vital things to be kept in mind for a valid will is the intention of the testator. Hence, all the wills that are executed are required to meet specific standards in order to be considered valid in the Court.
Essential elements of a Will
An executor is a person appointed by the testator but is not same as the administrator who is appointed by the Court. Where the Will talks about the powers to collect the outstanding, pay debts and manage the properties, the person can be said to be appointed as an executor by implication.
Probate acts as the evidence of the appointment of the executor and unless and until revoked, is conclusive as to the power of the executor. However, the grant of the probate to the executor does not confer upon him any title to the property.
Letter of Administration
Letter of Administration is a certificate granted by the competent Court to an administrator. This letter is only given where there exists a will authorizing him to administer the estate of the deceased in accordance with the Will. If the Will does not mention the name of the executor, then an application can be filed in the Court, for grant of letter of administration for the property.
Attestation of Will
The word ‘attesting’ means, signing a document to testify the signature of the executants. Therefore, an attesting witness signing before the executant who has put his mark on the Will, cannot be said to be a valid attestation. It necessary, that both the witnesses, must sign in the presence of the testator, but it is not essential, that even the testator needs to sign the Will in the presence of the witnesses. Further, it is not required that both the witnesses have to sign at the same time. It is also not necessary that the attesting witnesses should know the complete content of the Will.
To draft a Will, there are certain pre-requisite which needs to be adhered by the testator and the executor. For the drafting of a Will, the following points should be included:
- Details of the testator: All the details of the person who is making the Will should be included in the declaration. The name, age, address and all the other details which shall help in identifying who is making the Will and when it is being drawn.
- Declaration: It is mandatory for the testator to declare, that he/she is of sound mind and is under no coercion or influence while making of the Will.
- Details of the beneficiary: The details of the beneficiaries should be mentioned in the Will. Name, age, address of the one who will be benefiting out of the Will is essential while drafting a will.
- The executor of the Will: It is advisable to appoint an executor as he can ensure that the Will is carrying out in the way the testator wants or demands. The name, age, and address of the testator is mentioned as well.
- Details of property and assets: It is required that the testator lists out all the details of the asset and properties that a testator has, and also the ones that shall be included in the Will. He/she can also list out any specific assets that are there.
- Division of share: The share that each beneficiary will be allotted should be mentioned in the Will. It the asset is allotted to the minor, then the custodian for a minor should also be listed in the Will.
- Specific Directions: The testator is required to give directions in terms of executing the Will, and should specify if there are any other instructions.
- Witness: There should be a signature by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses. The witnesses do not need to know the details of the will they just have to verify that the signature by the testator was done before them.
- Signature: After the last statement is mentioned on the Will, the testator should sign with the date.
- Doctors Certificate: A Doctors Certificate (MBBS or MD) stating the person executing the WILL i.e, the testator is in a sound mind and health to execute his WILL.
When a will is being drafted, it can go through various alterations, which are:
Revocability of a Will
According to Section 62 of the Indian Succession Act, a will is revocable or altered anytime, during the lifetime of the testator. Section 70 of the Indian Succession Act, further lays down how it can be revoked.
A mere and simple intention to revoke a will is not sufficient for a valid revocation. When a will has to be revoked, it should be given in writing and an expressed form. The revocation clause mentioned in the Will would revoke all the prior wills and codicils. When there is no express clause to the effect, then the former will becomes invalid to the extent of its inconsistency with the latest Will, known as an implied revocation. If there is no inconsistency between the two wills, then they cannot be considered as two separate wills. However, it is important that these, two wills are read together to indicate the testamentary intention of the testator.
The other way by which revocation can take place is when the revocation is made in writing, through declaring an intention to revoke and the writing must be signed by the testator with the two witnesses. The deed of the revocation is executed in the same way, how a will is executed.
To revoke a will, the testator may burn the Will, or by some other person in his presence and by his direction to revoke the same. The burning of the Will should be actual and not symbolic.
Therefore, a will may be revoked expressly by another will or codicil, by implied revocation, by some writing or by burning or tearing otherwise. It is important to know that cancellation of a will by drawing across lines is not a mode of revocation of a will. Under the Hindu Law, the Will is not revoked by marriage or by subsequent birth.
Alterations in Will
Section 71 of the Indian Succession Act applies to alterations only if they are made after the execution of the Will and not before it. Section 71 of the act provides that any interlineations or any obliteration or any other alteration made in the Will after its execution is null unless the alteration is accompanied by the signatures of the testator and the attesting witnesses or it is accompanied by a memorandum signed by the testator and by the attesting witnesses at the end of the Will or some other part referring to the alterations. When these alterations are executed, then they are read as the Will itself. However, if these requirements are not completed, then the alterations would be invalid and the probate will be issued not considering the alterations. The alteration has to be made in the Will itself and not in a separate paper. However, if the changes are such that which cannot be decoded or deciphered, then the Will would be considered destroyed to that extent.
Wordings of the Will
Section 74 of the Indian Succession Act allows the making of the Will in any form and in any language. There is no requirement for adding technical words in making of a will, but if technical words are used in the Will, they are assumed that they are used in their legal sense unless the context states otherwise. As long as the aim of the Will is clear, the technical words or accuracy in grammar is immaterial.
The construction that postpones the vesting of the legacy, in the property disposed of should be avoided. The intention of the Will should be decided after constructing the whole Will and not according to the individual clauses.
Execution of the Will
On the death of the testator, the executor of the Will or a legal heir of the testator can apply for probate in the Court. The Court will then ask other heirs if they any objections to the Will. If there are no objections in the Will, the Court then grants probate. A probate is a copy of Will, which is certified by the Court. It should be treated as conclusive evidence of the genuineness of the Will. It is only after this that a will comes into effect.
Signature of the Testator
As per the instructions of section 63(a) of the Indian Succession Act, the testator is required to sign or affix his mark. If the testator is not able to produce a sign, in that case, a thumb impression has been held legally valid.
In the case Gnanambal Ammal v. T. Raju Aiyar, the Supreme Court held that the cardinal maxim to be observed by the Court in construing a Will is the intention of the testator. This intention is primarily to be gathered from the language of the document, which is to be read as a whole. The other principal applies is that, when two types of constructions are possible for the making of the Will, then the one who avoids intestacy and follows testacy should be followed.
The Court is required to follow the principle of clear intention. The primary duty of the Court is to determine the intention of the testator from the will itself by reading of the Will. The Supreme Court in Bhura Vs. Kashi Ram held that a construction which would advance the intention of the testator has been favoured and as far as possible effect is to be given to the testator’s intention unless it is contrary to law. The Court should put itself in the shoes of the testator.
In another case of Navneet Lal v. Gokul & Ors, the Supreme Court stated that the Court should consider the testator’s relationships, the position of the testator’s families, the surrounding circumstances, and the probability, he would use words in a particular sense. However, it also held that these factors are merely an aid in ascertaining the intention of the testator. The Court cannot speculate what the testator might have intended to write. The Court can only interpret in accordance with the express or implied intention of the testator expressed in the Will. It cannot recreate or make a Will for the testator.
Drafting of a will is important as well as necessary in today’s time. It is no longer considered a taboo in India, and people are coming forward and drafting their wills so that in future, their assets and property can be easily divided into the beneficiaries. As these documents carry immense significance and importance, one should make sure, and these are drafted according to the laws enacted and with the help of a legal person so that no errors or mistakes are committed.