Major part of our litigation in courts pertains to family disputes concerning inheritance of property. Property or for that matter wealth is something that can turn brothers and dear friends into foes. Unfair dealing of one child for whatever reasons, dissatisfaction or personal ambitions of a particular member of the family are filling up the coffers of lawyers and adding to the long pending cause lists in various courts . Introspecting own experiences and hearing from friends and relations on the issue prompted me to express myself on the subject. I will quote some examples and prove that the maladies are avoidable.
My father had bought some land in our village in Himachal Pradesh. though the entire cost was paid by him but he made the registry in four shares i.e. one each in the name of his step brother, our elder brother and since we two brothers were minors, he kept two shares in his name. My grandfather took charge of the land. Agriculture is a commitment if one wants to make an earning out of it. My uncle left a teacher’s job to join his father at the farm. However, most of the time my father had to augment their resources from his own earnings. My eldest brother hit the bottle hard and could do anything for it. During eighties land in Baddi became prime due to industrialization and everyone wanted a quick buck. My uncle misused a dead power of attorney given in the name of our grandfather to effect partition of land and he sold his share. Now he was eying rest of the land and moved a false case to Himachal High Court contending that my brother had used the power of attorney given to him by my father and sold the entire land to my uncle. This was an utter breach of trust and my father could not bear . He suffered a stroke and became erratic in decision making. He made some such moves that four judges recused from the case and we were on the verge of losing a case which actually was not there. My elder brother refused to cooperate. It took me two years to get everybody to an agreement to resolve the issue outside the court. We had to short-sell the property by 30% and shared a substantial amount with my uncle. The silver lining was that at one point of time my father had offered 16% share to my uncle but I managed with 12%. In large families trust is a relative term as the head cannot satisfy everybody. My father should not have trusted my grandfather to handling the errand uncles of ours. Once the relations were deteriorating he should have done the appropriate documentation which was not a difficult thing at all and all of us would have got a better deal.
The second case comes to my mind is of my sister who was married to the son of a prominent person of Dharamshala. My brother in law also had tremendous liking for drinks. His father owned huge property. He willed his property to his two sons and gave nothing to his middle son’s widow accept a residential plot. The elder brother has settled in Australia since early sixties and is not to return to India. Without going too much into details the property has been divided in a manner that two third comes to my brother in law and one third to the elder brother in Australia. My brother in law passed away in 2005 and my sister inherits the property. Though there is a will, no partition has been done either by the father or later by the brothers. My sister has health problems and the gentleman from Australia does not agree for partition. Every time he is approached a very outlandish condition is put. She is in a fix to arrange money for the marriages of her daughters. Had the old man given due thought he could have left a very clean arrangement to the satisfaction of all. The only remedy is through a court order which is time consuming and appears impractical as of now.
The third case that was mentioned to me was by a friend. His uncle owns an ancestral house in his native place but is fixed on the idea that he will not sell it. His nephews and other relations and are occupying the property and are prepared to pay the assessed value and renovate/ modernize the house. However, the gentleman claims sentimental attachment to the house and wishes to make trust allowing all relations to enjoy the property but not to sell it. It is utopian but an impractical thought. Old properties deteriorate and need to be re-built. There are many such cases where owners leave the property with a trust which later can neither be sold nor re-built. Claimants or the trustees keep fighting physically or in courts which can be avoided by disposing off the property in the interest of the family and not be governed by sentiments.
One can count innumerable number of cases pertaining to property which have gone on for years. It is a humble recommendation that we must not get attached to property. Making a clear inheritance will is a must. It will not only make lives of the next generation better but will do a national duty by reducing litigation leading to peaceful life. Even if a dispute arises a conciliatory approach will be better than a confrontational one.