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Knowledge and approval claim fails in contested Will case

View profile for Paul Branch
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In a recent High Court case, Rakesh Gupta claimed that his late mother’s Will, which favoured his younger brother, Naresh, was invalid due to lack of knowledge and approval. The Court found in favour of Naresh on the basis that, when considering the facts of the case, no suspicious activity had surrounded the creation or approval of the Will.

Their parents had handed over their successful business Rakesh in the 1990s, having purchased a house in which they lived with Naresh and his young family.

Their parents had ‘mirror’ Wills drawn up in 1998. Both Rakesh and Naresh were named as executors but the terms of the Wills favoured Naresh – the family home and a significant cash sum was left to him. Aside from small legacies left to their grandchildren, the rest of Mr and Mrs Gupta’s estate was to be equally divided between their two sons.

The couple also made Wills dealing with their Indian estate and mirror codicils appointing their daughter as an additional executor.

Mr Gupta died in 2009 and his estate passed to his wife, who had dementia. She then died five years later.

Bringing a claim to challenge his mother’s Will in 2017, Rakesh argued that his mother had no knowledge of the 1998 Will and had not approved it. He alleged that his mother had a limited understanding of English and could not have understood its terms.

The solicitor who was responsible for preparing the Will had been struck off in 2009 and the Will file was unavailable. Many potential witnesses in the case had died or could not be traced and the second witness to the Will could not remember Mrs Gupta. Contrasting accounts were given to the Court regarding Mrs Gupta’s grasp of English.

Rakesh claimed that his father’s total control in dealing with the couple’s correspondence ought to be considered by the Court as suspicious and that, because of this arrangement, the 1998 Wills would have been produced with only the minimal involvement of his mother.

Taking all the above into account, the judge concluded that there was no evidence of suspicious circumstances involved and that it would be ‘astonishing’ if Mr and Mrs Gupta had not discussed the terms of their Wills. He did not accept that her health would have prevented her from knowing of or approving her Will in 1998 and that it was clear that the Guptas did not treat their three children equally.

In every case, the courts will consider the probability that a Will reflects the intentions of the person who made it.

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