Karan, Arjun and Inheriting Estate Disputes

On the face of it, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan’s hit 1995 Bollywood movie is about reincarnation, the bonds of blood, and the depth of a mother’s love, but if you look at it carefully, it’s about a bitter estate dispute that is inherited from generation to generation.
Durga Singh’s two adult children lived in rural India, worked at a rock quarry kind of like Indian Fred Flinstones, and grew up believing their mother’s story that their father basically left for a pack of smokes and never came back – it would be fair to say that they were innocent and maybe a little naïve, too. One day, news got to them that their paternal grandfather wanted to make amends and get rid of the bad blood that had plagued their family for all of Karan and Arjun’s lives. This is also when their mother decided to tell them that their grandfather was none other than the local Thakur (the title Thakur was used in parts of India by landlords who used to collect revenue in their feudal-like estate).
When Durga, Karan and Arjun entered the Thakur’s mansion, one of the first things that you would have noticed is that the Thakur was very clearly on his deathbed, and that the thick package of estate documents in his hands while he embraced his grandsons for the first time in his life looked fairly new and were probably recently executed.
The Thakur eventually broke the mystery of what his final intentions were by explaining in layman’s terms to Karan, Arjun and Durga that to ensure that they received what was rightfully theirs upon his death, Durga now had a life interest in the Thakur’s estate, and that Karan and Arjun were to receive the estate (likely in equal shares) in remainder. In most common law jurisdictions, this means that the person receiving a life estate interest in an estate are given the property for the duration of their life but they have no right to dispose of it further, as upon their death that very estate interest is to be transferred to those with the remainder interest.
Before any of this was able to fully settle in, however, Durjan Singh, a distant relative of the Thakur barged into the mansion and made it abundantly clear that he had an interest in the estate and that he planned on doing what was necessary to claim what he felt was rightfully his. Unfortunately, instead of contesting the estate documents in a court of law upon the Thakur’s impending demise, Durjan decided to murder the Thakur with his own two hands. Having disposed of the Thakur, and likely his final estate documents as well, Durjan decided that this wasn’t enough and went on to murder Durga’s children Karan and Arjun as well.
Durga, unable to concede that her sons were dead and were gone forever, prayed to the Goddess Kali to reincarnate them. Decades later, and years after any likely probate certificates appointing Durjan as the Estate Trustee were likely issued by the relevant court, and the estate administration work having also likely been settled, Karan and Arjun returned, reincarnated. This is the perfect example of a common occurrence with large estates – long-lost family members coming out of the woodwork to fight an estate battle.
If we used a little bit of imagination, and assumed that this story started in present day Ontario, a short consultation with Zeeshan S. Baig, Barrister & Solicitor may have saved Durjan Singh from feeling like he needed to murder all of the Thakur’s heirs before he could take what he saw as rightfully his.
With the Thakur likely dying in mere days, instead of imagining how exactly to strangle the Thakur, Durjan’s Ontario estates lawyer may have discussed with Durjan, among other things, how to challenge the validity of the Thakur’s will and how to make a dependants claim against the estate, and the merits of those actions.
The typical grounds to challenge the validity of a deceased individual’s will include:
  • Improper execution
  • Lack of capacity
  • Lack of knowledge of the contents of the will, and
  • The presence of undue influence
Assuming that the document was correctly executed and witnessed, we can move onto some of the more pressing matters that arise:
  • To consider whether or not the Thakur’s will could be held by an Ontario court as invalid, first, we would need to consider whether or not the Thakur had the requisite capacity to duly execute a will and whether he understood the contents of the will. Upon being brought a challenge to a will based on the capacity of the Thakur, an Ontario judge would consider whether the Thakur was of sound mind, memory and understanding.
  • Second, it would be considered whether or not the Thakur was unduly influenced by Karan and Arjun with respect to the distribution of his estate. Here, an Ontario judge would need to consider whether or not there was an element of coercion in either Karan or Arjun’s actions.
  • It should also be considered whether or not Durjan Singh could claim relief from the late Thakur’s estate as a dependant of the Thakur. Here, we’re not concerned as to whether or not the Thakur’s will is valid or not, but more whether or not the Thakur had any legal or moral responsibilities to Durjan Singh, and whether or not these responsibilities reached the threshold of a successful dependants support claim.

    – If Durjan Singh could prove to an Ontario judge that he was a dependant of the Thakur, the judge would then consider the following factors, among others:

    – Durjan Singh’s age and physical and mental health;Durjan’s Singh’s needs, and his accustomed standard of living;

    – The measures available for Durjan Singh to become able to provide for his own support, and the lengh of time and cost involved to enable him to take said measures;

    – The proximity and duration of Durjan Singh’s relationship with the Thakur;

    – The circumstances of the Thakur at the time of death, and the size of his estate;

    – Any agreement that the Thakur and Durjan Singh may have had.

The above considerations are far from a complete analysis of the many avenues that Durjan Singh could have taken instead of choosing to murder everyone. This article is not legal advice – if you are experiencing something similar to what Durjan Singh experienced, you need to meet with an estates lawyer who will thoroughly discuss your matter and explain your legal options. Call Zeeshan S. Baig, Toronto Probate Lawyer at (647) 771-0130 or e-mail us at lawyer@zeeshanbaig.com to set up your estates consultation today.