In India, the law does not mandate the Registration of Will. There is no compulsion whatsoever for registration of Will even if the Will pertains to immovable property. This exception of optional registration falls under Section 18 of the Registration Act, 1908.
A Will however only deals with self-owned property and not ancestral property.
In the case of “Maturi Pullaian v. Maturi Narasimham”, the court ruled that registration of a will is not compulsory. A will, which is properly signed and clearly expresses the wishes of the testator, will be legally valid even if it is not registered with the Registrar.
Although the registration of Wills is not compulsory, it can be registered at the office of the Sub-Registrar, established by the State governments under the Registration Act, 1908.
The person creating the Will is known as the 'Testator'. The testator requires a person to carry out any or all works pertaining to the subject matter of the Will after his death. Therefore, the person appointed in this regard is referred to as an 'Executor'. The person in favour of whom the Will is created is known as the 'Beneficiary'. In case a Will establishes a trust to distribute the property, a person needs to be designated to manage this trust. Such a person is known as the 'Trustee'.
As defined under the Indian Succession Act 1925, a Will is "the legal declaration of the intention of the testator, with respect to his property, which he desires to be carried into effect after his death." Whereas, in layman's language, a Will is a document of law which ensures that after your death, your assets and property are governed as per your wishes. It is imperative to note that the beneficiary has absolutely no right in the subject matter of the Will until the death of the testator.
At the time of registration of Will, a witness should accompany the testator to the Registrar. A certain amount of registration fee is chargeable on such registration.
Upon execution, the registered Will can be deposited in safe custody with a banker or lawyer. Even the Registrar has authority to receive and hold the Wills in a deposit. In order to deposit a will with the Registrar, it must be done in a sealed cover by the testator or by a person duly authorized by the testator. On satisfying the identity of the testator or the person authorized by the testator, the Registrar holds the cover containing the Will.
Having a registered will shall definitely provide legal backing in case of possible disputes in the future. In case of any dispute on the validity of a will, having a registered will can be of great help.
For instance, there are two wills by the same testator (writer of the will), and the date on both the wills is the same. Subsequently, if there is a dispute about the validity of the two wills. In such instances, the registered will shall hold more legal basis than the unregistered will. However, it is pertinent to note that mere registration is not sufficient to prove its validity. In the case of “Rani Purnima Devi And Another vs Kumar Khagendra Narayan Dev And Another”, the Supreme Court had observed,
“A Registered Will may not by itself be sufficient to dispel all suspicion regarding it, where suspicion exists, without submitting the evidence of registration to a close examination.”
In the event wherein the testator wishes to change or withdraw the registered Will from the Registrar, then he can apply personally or through a duly authorized agent. On being satisfied of the identity, If the Registrar delivers the Will.
Upon the death of the testator, any person could apply to the Registrar for opening of the cover containing the Will of the deceased. If the Registrar is satisfied that the testator is dead, the Registrar opens the cover in the presence of the applicant and provides a copy to the applicant. However, the original Will remains in the custody of the Registrar until a competent Court orders to produce the registered Will before it.
It is imperative to note, once a registered Will is revoked, thereafter, any subsequent Will in the name of the testator must be compulsorily registered.