The perils of probating the last will and testament in India

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Parth Satam
Parth Satam
Parth Satam has worked with The Asian Age, Mid-Day and is presently a Principal Correspondent with Fauji India magazine. Parth maintains a keen interest in defence, aerospace and foreign affairs and has covered crime, national security and India's defence establishment for a decade. He can be reached on Email: satamp@gmail *Views are personal

Death and illness are trying times in a family, testing the fortitude of people in braving the tension and pain of a loved one’s physical pain – and sometimes passing – besides the massive disruption in the lives such an event triggers. The logistical effort and the relational fissures all culminate into a sledgehammer, descending down upon the persons who are braving the tragedy, adding another ‘front’ to the multi-pronged battle the people are already waging. However, in some cases, it also exposes them to the functioning of two professions, medicine and law, whose spheres coincide when a person passes. The book ‘Probating the Will and Testament’ by Anil Anand exposes the extent of pettiness among siblings, lack of knowledge of the law, lack of knowledge of the procedure, greediness of the housing societies and the high legal costs of fighting the property battle in India. As the probator of the last will and testament of 3 families, Anil Anand narrates the frustrations with law, rules and human greed.

Noble and central to the human existence in their own right, since one saves human lives (medical profession) and the other gets it justice (the legal profession), as the author himself says, frustration with their functioning is also not uncommon, as people who come to dwell around them during such contingencies often realize. This is both because of their highly technical nature beyond the understanding of the mortal layman and natural corruption, which affects every human profession, given our fallible nature. Anil Anand, a former nuclear scientist with the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), chronicles his own experience with the practitioners of these vocations, which was brought about by the demise of his own wife, itself preceded by long melancholia and stress of caregiving.

Anand was the executor of her will, the wills of two others of his friends, Shankar Dhawan and his wife Katie and assisted with the will of his late deceased colleague Sunder Singh. Their own story and experience, their passing, followed by the demise of his wife, Mau, put Anand in the forefront of all the ensuing legal and property matters off all three cases. This earned him enormous experience and knowledge in dealing with matters, which are beyond the comprehension of even some lawyers, as the book itself explains. The experience also shaped Anand’s view, making a case for euthanasia, a controversial subject, which remains resisted by moral and conventional societal notions.

“People do not wish to die even if they are old, bedridden, needing help to fulfil their daily needs, even for cleaning and eating – at times, even when they are on life support; relatives do not wish the person to go away, they cling on to the doctor or the hospital, where he/she is fully exploited by prolonging the agony, sometimes in an ICU for months together, even though the doctor knows fully well that the probability of recovery is next to nil,” he says in the preface. Quoting Emanuel,

Quoting Emanuel (brother of Chicago mayor, Rahm), a bioethicist who opposed assisted suicide and euthanasia, who said “I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either,” Anand said Emanuel insisted he was not proposing to ration healthcare or anyone to agree with him. “He was simply looking at the quest to extend the human life span and asking how much was enough. How many years do we wish to accumulate, how many experiences? Does the time come when we can say we’ve had our fair share?”

As for the sheer daunting tasks of executing Shankar’s and Katie’s wills owing to the highly tedious bank and court procedures arising out of the childlessness of the couple, Anand narrates in great detail about the technicalities and formalities that took several months to be detangled, serving a ready reckoner for anyone who might find themselves in such a situation. With their niece being their nominee and their money to be donated to the Ramakrishna Mission’s center in Belur, the paperwork included everything from probating their will before the HC to coordinating with the banks, which encountered them those unscrupulous lawyers who were cashing in on their situation. 

All this was amidst Anand’s own situation where he had to keep shutting between Mumbai and Bangkok, as his wife was a Thai national, who was spending her last days in her native country. Anand had to make monthly visits of 10-12 days for three years until her demise in an ICU. She was over 90 years. It is also here that the author faced a repeat of the situation which he had faced when his father was on his deathbed. Upon being asked by the Nairobi doctor if he can pull the plug, Anand snapped at him saying how he could ask such a question and said he should make the decision himself.

But now, it was him convincing the doctors to do so, stating it was Mau’s own wish to be not put on ventilator if none of her senses worked, and having to produce a copy of her will to make his case. He however decided against it after being convinced by his niece, who had reasons of her own.

Written in an extremely lucid form with an easy flow, the simplicity and matter-of-factness of the narration is often unnerving, making the reader marvel about the author’s objectivity towards the tragedy. It reflects when while describing her cremation, he refers to her as “the body”, “because she is now dead.”


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