Mumbai: Actress Pooja Bedi & Maternal Aunts Win Legal Battle Over Forged Will; Gain Rights To Late Uncle's Properties

Mumbai: Actress Pooja Bedi & Maternal Aunts Win Legal Battle Over Forged Will; Gain Rights To Late Uncle's Properties

While dismissing the petition, Justice Jadhav refused to accept the genuineness of the will and noted that the signature of the actress' uncle did not match.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Wednesday, November 29, 2023, 07:55 PM IST
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After 20 years, actress Pooja Bedi and her two maternal aunts succeeded in proving that the purported will of late Bipin Gupta (Bedi’s uncle) was forged by two strangers to usurp his properties which include a flat in Firdaus Building on Marine Drive and a two-acre plot in Panchgani.

Justice Milind Jadhav on Tuesday dismissed a testamentary petition filed by Vasant Sardal seeking to execute Gupta’s will dated September 4, 2003. In the will, the deceased wrote his entire estate off to a charitable trust controlled by two strangers, who were named as executors.

Vijay gohil

Judge observes signatures on the will do not match

While dismissing the petition, Justice Jadhav refused to accept the genuineness of the will and noted that Gupta’s signature on the three pages did not match. The court also said that there was lack of evidence regarding who drafted the three-page will when Gupta was admitted to Bombay Hospital for treatment of renal failure and hip fracture. Besides, the document appeared abnormal since half of its second page was blank while the execution part was on the third page.

By this order, Bedi gets one-third share in the estate and the remaining will go to her late mother Protima Bedi’s sisters – Ashita Tham and Monica Uberoi.

Will executed in 2003

Gupta executed the will on June 20, 2003, while undergoing treatment at Bombay Hospital and he passed away on September 4, 2003. The will named Behram Ardeshir and Vasant Sardal as executors. Sardal’s son Anil, a serving police officer, and advocate Santosh Raje signed the will as witnesses. Ardeshir later filed an affidavit renouncing his executorship within a month.

According to the will, a trust would be set up in the name of Gupta’s wife, Pushpa Gupta Charitable Trust. 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.

Considering that 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. In 2004, Vasant Sardal, one of the executors named in the will, filed a petition in the high court seeking probate of the will.

Several discrepancies found in the will

Justice Jadhav said that there were several discrepancies in the will and hence refused to accept it as a genuinely executed document. He said that the will mentioned that Gupta had no close relative hence he was bequeathing his entire estate to charity, but he did have three sisters and their children.

“It is seen that, 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 Mr. Bipin Gupta. Thus there is an indirect bequest in favour of the Executors and one of the attesting witnesses namely Mr. Anil Sardal, a police officer, who appears to be the mastermind of this entire conspiracy,” Justice Jadhav observed.

It noted that after Ardeshir renouncing his executorship, Vasant Sardal and his son Anil were the direct beneficiaries.

Vijay Gohil

'Clear intention of usurping the estate'

In a detailed 60-page judgment, the judge 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”.

In May 2018, the Bombay High Court had removed Vasant Sardal as an executor of the will observing 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 court had then appointed a court officer as an administrator of Gupta’s estate.

The court also remarked that the execution of the will was not in compliance with requirements of provisions of the Indian Succession Act, 1925. Advocate Raje, one of the witnesses to the will, said that he had not seen Gupta sign the undated document. Moreover, Raje claimed that he had signed the will and handed it back to Gupta. In fact, the document was found in the lawyer’s possession after Gupta’s death, justice Jadhav said.

The Bombay High Court has directed the police to hand over the movable properties which are in its possession to the defendants (Bedi and her aunts) after they furnish valid undertaking as per the law. With regards to the immovable properties, the high court said, “The legal heirs shall be free to take appropriate steps as available to them in law for dealing with/disposition of the said immovable properties”.

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