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Preface:

The scope of an administration suit is to collect the assets of the deceased to pay off the debts and other charges and to find out what is the residue of the estate available for distribution amongst the heirs of the deceased. A suit for partition is distinct from an administration suit. Though administration of the estate may ultimately after accounts are taken also entail ‘partition’, but where it is found that there is no need for administration and what is in effect sought is partition only, the court is entitled in exercise of discretion under Section 298 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘ISA’) to refuse the grant of Letters of Administration and to relegate the parties to the remedy of partition.

Section 218 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925:

218. To whom administration may be granted, where deceased is a Hindu, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Sikh, Jaina or exempted person-

  • If the deceased has died intestate and was a Hindu, Muhammadan, Buddhist, Sikh or Jaina or an exempted person, administration of his estate may be granted to any person who, according to the rules for the distribution of the estate applicable in the case of such deceased, would be entitled to the whole or any part of such deceased’s estate.
  • When several such persons apply for such administration, it shall be in the discretion of the court to grant it to any one or more of them.
  • When no such person applies, it may be granted to a creditor of the deceased.

In the matter of: Illachi Devi V/s Jain Society, Protection of Orphans India, (2003) 8 SCC 413, it was held that, the object behind granting ample discretion to the court under Section 218 (2) of the ISA in the matter of grant of Letters of Administration in the matter of intestacy is that the grantee is responsible to the court and is required to carry out the directions faithfully, diligently and effectively; that the administrator would avoid occurrence of personal consideration in the matter of administration and would perform various duties and functions with all efficiency, integrity and honesty and that the administrator is entrusted to act in a ‘fiduciary capacity’.

It is important to note that, though Section 218 of the ISA provides for grant of administration of the estate in the event of intestacy to any person who according to the rules for the distribution of the estate applicable in the case of such deceased would be entitled to the whole or any part of such deceased’s estate but Section 298 of the ISA commencing with a non-obstante clause vests discretion in the court to make an order refusing any such grant, for reasons to be recorded in writing.

In the matter of: Sarla Gupta V/s State & Ors (Test. Cas. 15/2016, High Court of Delhi, Date of Decision: 18.12.2017, Coram: Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, J.), it was held that:

  1. The court, in a proceeding for grant of Letters of Administration, is concerned only with, whether the person seeking Letters of Administration is a fit person to be granted Letters of Administration of the estate of the deceased.
  2. The court in proceedings for grant of Letters of Administration does not enter into question of title to the property.
  3. Proceedings for grant of Letters of Administration are summary in nature and complicated questions of title of property (or properties) cannot be appropriately conducted in summary proceedings.

Dictum in the matter of: Shubhra Singhal V/s State (MANU/DE/4848/2013):

In the matter of Shubhra Singhal (Supra), the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi finding the relationship between the petitioner, claiming to be one of the heirs of the deceased, to be acrimonious and contentious with the other heirs of the deceased, held that-

  1. No purpose would be served in keeping the proceedings for grant of Letters of Administration pending, trying it as a contentious suit and deciding whether the Letters of Administration should be granted to the petitioner as sought or not, when from the pleadings it was evident that the petitioner cannot be said to be an appropriate person fit for grant of Letters of Administration and suit for partition being a more appropriate remedy for adjudication of the disputes raised;
  2. The grant of Letters of Administration requires the grantee to whom grant is made, to collect the estate and to distribute the same amongst rightful claimants. Where relationship is bitter, the petitioner cannot be expected to, as ‘Administrator’, fairly distribute the estate between all the claimants;
  3. Issues as to the shares in the estate cannot also be decided appropriately in a Letters of Administration proceedings, when, if there is any merit in the claim of the petitioner, partition is the only remedy;
  4. Where it is found that there is no need for administration and what is in fact sought is adjudication of a right in the estate and consequent partition of the estate, the court is entitled, in exercise of discretion under Section 298 of the ISA, to refuse the grant of Letters of Administration and to relegate the parties to the remedy of partition.

Dictum in the matter of: Ramesh Chand Sharma V/s State & Ors (High Court of Delhi, Test. Cas. 66/2011, Date of Decision: 20.01.2015, Coram: Indermeet Kaur, J.):

In the matter of Ramesh Chand Sharma (Supra) it was held that:

  1. Letters of Administration may be granted to a grantee under Section 218 of the ISA. Section 218 of the ISA provides that where any person has died intestate, the administration of his estate may be granted to a person who according to the rules for the distribution of the estate applicable in the case of the deceased, would be entitled to the whole or any part of the deceased’s estate. For example: Under the Hindu Law, a Class-I legal heir, say the son, is entitled to the estate of the deceased father if his father has died intestate.
  2. Section 273 of the ISA provides that once Letters of Administration have been given to a party, it shall have effect over all the properties of the deceased, both moveable and immovable. It is however settled position of law that the person to whom Letters of Administration are granted does not thereby become entitled to the property or estate of the deceased; the estate will succeed according to the law of succession applicable to the deceased person.
  3. The purpose of grant of Letters of Administration is only to enable the administrator so appointed by the court to collect/assimilate the properties of the deceased and to deal with the various authorities with whom the properties of the deceased may be vested or recorded and thereafter the same be transferred in the names of the successors in accordance with law of succession applicable to the deceased. The administrator in the course of the proceedings is required from time to time to file the accounts in the court with respect to the administration of the estate of the deceased.
  4. The power to grant Letters of Administration is a discretionary power which is vested with the court and where acrimony between the parties is not only evident from the pending litigation and the pleadings made in proceeding for grant of administration but is even otherwise writ large and the parties are not able to see eye to eye and even the court having made several efforts to reconcile their differences through mediation yet the efforts for mediation having failed, the purport of a grant of Letters of Administration would be an exercise in futility.

Takeaways:

  1. The grant of Letters of Administration requires the grantee to whom the grant is made to collect the estate and to distribute the same amongst the rightful claimants, but, where the relationship between heirs of the deceased are bitter and they are unwilling to see each other eye to eye, there it cannot be expected that an administrator amongst the heirs of deceased be appointed to fairly distribute the estate of the deceased amongst all the heirs. In such cases the only remedy that can be availed of is that of ‘suit for partition’. It is settled principle of law that the court will not allow its time and resources to be taken by a proceeding which is to ultimately abort.
  2. Where all legal heirs of the deceased are at cross fire with one another and there is no possibility of a settlement, all talks of mediation having failed, the petition for grant of Letters of Administration should be dismissed. The appropriate remedy lies in filing a suit for partition.
  3. The remedy of Letters of Administration is misconceived when complex questions of law and fact qua title are to be adjudicated. (See: Mt. Hajira Khatoon V/s Saiyad Mustafa Husain, AIR 1941 Oudh 474, and, Estate of Late Shri Gurcharan Dass Puri V/s State, AIR 1987 P&H 122)
  4. It is incumbent upon the court to, before granting administration of estate to anyone, determine expeditiously the status and fitness of such person to administer the estate. (See: Maung Ba Han V/s Maung Tun Yin, MANU/RA/0169/1934)
  5. A suit for partition is distinct from an administration suit and the administration of the estate may ultimately even lead to a partition but where it has been noted that there is no need for administration and it would almost be impossible for the grantee of the Letters of Administration to administer the estate of the deceased, the remedy available to the parties (heirs of the deceased person) would be to go for a ‘suit for partition’.
  6. It is incorrect to state that, application for grant of probate or Letters of Administration is not covered by Article 137 of the Limitation Act, 1963. (See: Kunvarjeet Singh Khandpur V/s Kirandeep Kaur & Ors, (2008) 8 SCC 463)

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