Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: A petition was filed by the sons of the deceased husband (Defendant 1 and 3) challenging the impugned order by virtue of which the Court held that by virtue of the Will dated 13-01-1989, the wife of the deceased husband became the absolute owner of subject property. Prathiba M Singh, J., held that the will was executed on 30-07-1949, before the enactment of the 1956 Act and the property in question was part of the HUF, and not self-acquired property as the Hindu women become an absolute owner of the property under Section 14(1) of the 1956 Act.

The case in question involves a dispute over the rights of wife (plaintiff 2) in a property governed by the Hindu Succession Act. The property in question is a self-acquired asset of her late husband. The wife did not have any independent rights or pre-existing claims to the property before her husband’s demise. However, during her lifetime, she enjoyed lease rentals from the property, indicating a degree of financial dependence on it. Additionally, the husband, through his will, delineated specific portions of the property to be inherited by his legal heirs after her death. This arrangement was to be upheld even if she predeceased him. Following the husband’s passing, a legal dispute arose regarding the interpretation of the will and her rights in the property. The crux of the matter lies in the nature of her interest in the property after her husband’s demise. The plaintiffs sought to establish the wife’s absolute ownership of the property, while the defendants contested this claim, arguing that her rights were limited in accordance with the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act.

Counsel for plaintiffs argued that the wife should be recognized as the absolute owner of the property, emphasizing her continued residence in the property and her contributions to its development even after her husband’s death. They contended that the terms of the will should not restrict her rights to the property. In contrast, the defendants maintained that the wife’s rights in the property were limited as per the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act. They argued that the terms of the will clearly outlined the distribution of the property after the wife’s demise, indicating that she only held a life estate in the property.

The Court meticulously analyzed the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act and relevant precedents to ascertain the nature of the wife’s interest in the property. It considered the intentions of the testator as expressed in the will and evaluated the implications of granting her absolute ownership versus a limited estate. The Court noted the significance of ensuring financial security for Hindu women, especially in cases where they may lack independent income. It emphasized the need to interpret the law in a manner that aligns with the testator’s intentions while safeguarding the interests of women.

The Court remarked that “In the case of Hindu women, who may not have their own income, receiving a life estate given to them by their husbands who may predecease them is an essential safeguard for their financial security during their lifetime. Such security is essential to ensure that the woman is not dependent on her children, after the demise of the husband. Under such circumstances, the wife has complete rights to enjoy the property during her lifetime. She can also enjoy the income from the said property throughout her life. However, it cannot be held that the entire property should be construed as maintenance giving the wife absolute rights over the property, after the death of her husband.”

The Court further remarked that “In this case, the wife’s rights in the subject property clearly devolved upon her only under a Will. She did not ‘possess’ any rights in the property prior to her husband’s death; she acquired rights solely under the Will. She had the right to enjoy the income generated from the subject property during her lifetime, and this cannot be considered an absolute interest.”

Thus, the Court held that the wife’s rights in the property were limited as per the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act and upheld the terms of the will, which specified the distribution of the property among legal heirs after the wife’s demise. The Court set aside the impugned order of the Trial Court and directed further proceedings in accordance with the judgment.

[Manmohan Singh v. Shital Singh, 2024 SCC OnLine Del 2844, decided on 24-04-2024]

Advocates who appeared in this case:

Mr. Jagdish Kumar Solanki, Advocate for petitioner

Mr. Raghav Anthwal & Mr. Charu Sharma, Advs. for R-1 to 4. Mr. Jatin Mongia & Mr. Anatesh Banon, Advocates for R-5

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