Decks cleared for Pooja Bedi to claim rightful inheritance
The Bombay High Court has rejected the authenticity of a will bequeathing actor Pooja Bedi's late maternal uncle's estate to a charitable trust. The court cited lack of evidence and discrepancies in the will, ruling in favor of Bedi claiming one-third share of the estate. The other two shares will go to Bedi's late mother's sisters.
The Bombay high court has refused to accept the genuineness of the will by which actor Pooja Bedi’s late maternal uncle Bipin Gupta had bequeathed his entire estate, which includes a flat in an Art Deco building in Marine Drive and a two-acre plot in Panchgani near Mahabaleshwar, to a charitable trust to be controlled by two strangers named as executors.
Apart from the lack of evidence stating as to who drafted and prepared the three-page will when the testator was admitted in a hospital, the document appeared abnormal, as half of its second page was blank while the execution part was on the third page, a single-judge bench of justice Milind Jadhav said on Tuesday and dismissed a petition filed by one of the executors. Besides, Gupta’s signature on the three pages did not match, the court said.
This order has paved the way for Pooja Bedi to claim one-third share in the estate while the other two shares would go to her late mother Protima Bedi’s sisters Ashita Tham and Monica Uberoi.
“As a family we are so delighted with the ultimate judgement,” Pooja Bedi said while reacting to the verdict. “A big thank you to justice Jadhav who was taken aback by all the developments and time zones and logically and carefully went through the details and put an end to our 20-year predicament.”
It all began in 2004 when Vasant Sardal, one of the two executors named in the will, approached the high court seeking probate of the will purportedly executed on June 20, 2003. The will submitted by Sardal was purportedly executed when Gupta was admitted to Bombay Hospital after he suffered renal failure and hip fracture. He eventually died in September 2003. The will, which named Vasant Sardal and Behram Ardeshir, who later renounced his executorship, was signed by Sardal’s son Anil, a serving police officer, and advocate Santosh Raje as witnesses.
As per the will, a trust would be set up in the name of his wife, Pushpa Gupta Charitable Trust, and this trust would inherit all of Gupta’s properties – tenancy rights in a flat in Firdaus Building, an Art Deco structure, a flat in Neel Tarang building in Mahim, a two-acre plot in Panchgani, bank balances, investments in shares and bonds, and movable assets like valuables in his possession.
Since the will stipulated that the executors were to be the trustees of the proposed trust, they were indirectly authorised to control Gupta’s entire estate.
Justice Jadhav, however, refused to accept the will as a valid and genuinely executed document after noticing several discrepancies and abnormalities. Giving an example, he said, the will said Gupta had no close relatives and therefore he was bequeathing his entire estate to charity, but he did have three sisters and their children.
“In the will an obscure bequest is made to charity in the name of a charitable trust to be controlled by the two executors who are complete strangers and third parties and not even closely related to the testator, Bipin Gupta,” the judge said while rejecting the probate petition. “Thus, there is an indirect bequest in favour of the executors and one of the attesting witnesses namely Anil Sardal, who appears to be the mastermind of this entire conspiracy.”
The court said the disposition in the will was “on the face of record unnatural and obscure” and the Sardal father-son duo were the direct beneficiaries, after Ardeshir’s renunciation. The bench also took note of the fact that Ardeshir had said that Sardal and his son “had a clear intention of usurping the estate of the testator, Bipin Gupta.”
Justice Jadhav also took note of a May 2018 order by which Sardal was removed as an executor of the will by another judge after he noticed that he was too old, feeble and infirm to perform the duty of an executor and “in fact his son Anil Sardal was instrumental in taking all decisions”.
The bench also noticed that the execution of the will was not in compliance with requirements of section 63 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925, as advocate Raje said that he had not seen Gupta sign the undated document.
To make things worse, while Raje claimed that he had signed the will as a witness and handed it back to Gupta, the document was found in the lawyer’s possession after his death, the judge pointed out.
Expressing her happiness, Pooja Bedi said, “Yes, it’s been through the judicial system for 20 years and I pray that judicial reforms are put in place to ensure cases like this never exceed a five-year mark. My aunts and I are delighted.”