16 May 2014
In resolving a bitter family dispute, the High Court had no hesitation in finding that the signature on a woman's purported last will was a clever forgery designed to cheat a favoured relative of his rightful inheritance.
The will was said to have been signed in Mumbai three years before the woman's death in England. No will emerged at that time and her assets passed to her husband on the basis that she had died intestate. When the widower died, he left the majority of his estate to a relative of his deceased wife.
There was no dispute that the widower's will was valid. However, one of the woman's nephews launched proceedings on the basis that letters of administration in respect of her estate had been issued on the mistaken assumption that she had died intestate. He claimed that there was a valid will and that her assets should have passed in accordance with its terms.
The sole question in the case was whether the woman's signature on the purported will was genuine. The Court noted that the testimony of two eminent handwriting experts was inconclusive on the issue but nevertheless ruled that the signature was a forgery and dismissed the nephew's claim.
The Court observed that it would have been 'extraordinary' if, in the nearly three years that passed between the alleged making of the will and her death, the woman had not told her favourite sister of the document's existence. In the Court's view, the evidence of three people – including the woman's brother and brother-in-law, who claimed to have witnessed her signature – was implausible and inconsistent and the Court was left with the distinct impression that their testimony had been 'rehearsed'.
Having found that the purported will was invalid due to 'want of proper execution', it was unnecessary for the Court to go on to reach specific conclusions as to how, or when, the disputed document had come into existence.
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