If parents transfer property to an offspring who took care of them in old age, it cannot be assumed that the individual exerted undue influence on them to corner a bigger share of property and dispossessed his or her siblings, the Supreme Court has ruled in a dispute that goes back to 1970.
Adjudicating a property dispute among brothers, a bench of Justice Navin Sinha and Justice Indira Banerjee said drawing such conclusion without requisite evidence would have undesirable consequences as people who take care of aged parents will be at the receiving end from siblings who chose to be less dutiful.
The court concluded that the offspring who receives a larger inheritance cannot be subjected to a “reverse burden of proof” to establish that they looked after their parents only with the objective of extracting a large share of property and other valuables, reports The Times of India.
The SC said there is bound to be more affinity between elder members of the family and those who look after them day-to-day and if property is transferred to a caring person then inference of undue influence cannot be drawn. Such an implication could deter people from caring for their elders.
In every caste, creed, religion and civilised society, looking after elders of the family is considered a sacred and pious duty. Nonetheless, today it has become a matter of serious concern. Parliament taking note of the same enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. We are of the opinion, in the changing times and social mores, that to straightaway infer undue influence merely because a sibling was looking after the family elder, is an extreme proposition which cannot be countenanced in the absence of sufficient and adequate evidence,” the court said.
“Any other interpretation by inferring a reverse burden of proof straightaway on those who were taking care of the elders, as having exercised undue influence, can lead to very undesirable consequences. It may not necessarily lead to neglect, but can certainly create doubts and apprehensions leading to lack of full and proper care under the fear of allegations with regard to exercise of undue influence,” it said.
In the case under consideration, the siblings fought for close to five decades after the father transferred property to one of them in 1970. The father died a year after and the sale deed was challenged by other members of the family, alleging it was done fraudulently by deceit and under undue influence because of old age and infirmity of the deceased who was living with him.
The trial court and HC refused to give credence to the allegation and the members approached SC. The apex court too dismissed their plea and upheld the sale deed executed 49 years back.