Inheritance Law in India
- By: Adv. Jayatinn B Laalwani
- 20 Nov 2019
Inheritance means Succession, succession follows the death of a person. Inheritance of property means the passing on property, its title, debts, rights and obligations to the other party upon the death of an individual. The term inheritance is referred to whatever an individual receives upon the death of the relative according to law whichever is applicable when no will is present. Inheritance is the integral component of the family. It is the process of passing the material property from one generation to another. The transmission in inheritance is regulated and governed by specific laws in India. The law of testamentary or inheritance can be easily segregated in terms of religions.
The Hindu Succession Act was passed in the year 1956 by the parliament to amend and codify the laws relating to the intestate. The Hindu Succession Act was established to assure equal inheritance rights to both son and daughters. The Act states, every Indian is entitled to an equal share on inheriting the property. The Act applies to all Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. It plays an important role in the process of dealing with the inheritance of property. In India, inheritance or how the property is to be distributed is determined by the law of succession. In 2005, the Hindu Succession Act was amended by clarifying the right of women in dealing or disposing of the property as per her will.
The governing law applicable to Parsis for the intestate succession is the Indian Succession Act 1925 under section 50 and 56. Also, the governing law applicable to Christian and Jews inheritance is governed under section 31 to 49 of the Indian Succession Act, 1925.
Laws of succession governing Muslims in case of non-testamentary succession is the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. And if any Muslim has died intestate, then the issue of an intestate is governed under the Indian Succession Act 1925. Law of succession in case of interfaith marriages is governed under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The Indian Succession Act, 1925, states that everyone is entitled to equal inheritance.
The property gets delegated upon the relatives of the deceased in two ways:
- Testamentary Succession
- Intestate Succession
Testamentary Succession refers to succession resulting from a legally executed testament. It is also known as the right of inheritance. The testamentary succession is fixed at the time of a decedent’s death. It occurs when a person dies and leaves a will.
Intestate means when a person died without making a will, which is capable of taking effect. If a person is said to have died intestate that means he has not disposed his assets under a will. Or the disposition mentioned under a will is not capable of taking effect on account of the illegal bequest. If a person dies intestate, the assets in his possession are distributed as per the provisions of the Indian Succession Act.
India has several laws governing the intestate succession among the different religions. The mains laws that governers the intestate are as follows:
- Hindu Succession Act
- Intestate Succession Act
- Sharia Law
- Indian Succession Act
Hindu Succession Act applies to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. The laws applicable to inheritance depends on the gender of the deceased. In the case of males, there are four classes of people who can inherit the property of a man. The first preference goes to the Class I heirs than for Class II and so on. ‘Heir’ is a person, who under the law of intestacy is entitled to receive the property of the intestate deceased.
As per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, further amended in 2005, if a Hindu male dies intestate then the following person can make a claim:
- Class I heirs: The class I heirs are the immediate relatives of the deceased that is the wife, children, mother, siblings and grandchildren. If the children of the deceased died before the deceased, then their spouses will form part of Class I heirs.
- Class II heirs: The class II heirs include the father, grandfather, uncle, aunt, nephews and nieces of the deceased.
- Class III heirs: The class III heirs are the relatives of deceased from the male line, but it is limited to the blood relatives. They are called as agnates.
- Class IV heirs: They are the relatives of the deceased from the female line; they are called cognates.
If a Hindu female dies intestate, the four classes of heirs are slightly different:
- Class I heirs: The husband and children of the female are the clas I heirs.
- Class II heirs: The heir’s of her husband are the class II heirs of the female.
- Class III heirs: The class III heirs are her parents.
- Class IV heirs: The heir’s of her mother are the class IV heirs of the female.
The apex court in case of DanammaSumanSurpurvs Amar &Ors clarified that the position of law relating to the Hindu Succession Act, 2005 held that the right is inherent and can be availed by any coparcener, as per the amended act of 2005, even a daughter is a co-parcener.
Indian Succession Act is the act that applies to Parsis, Christians and other religions that are not mentioned in the Hindu Succession Act. The spouse of the deceased takes one-third of the total inheritance in the absence of children and no living relatives.
The remaining two-thirds are divided between the children and surviving relatives in the following order of preference:
- Equally between mother, brothers and sisters (nephews or nieces if brothers and sisters are dead)
- Mother (in case if there are no brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews)
- Other close living relatives
As per section 2 of the Indian Succession Act 1925, the legal heirs of the Christians are husband, wife or the kindred of the deceased. In Mary Roy v. the State of Kerala, the apex court decided upon the inheritance rights of a Christian Women against the law for the first time. It also held that no personal law can be held above the Constitution of India.
Sharia law applies to Muslims. Under this law, one can divide only upto the one-third of the estate. In Sharia law, whether the succession is testate or intestate, the son, daughter, father, mother, brothers, sisters, grandsons and granddaughters are the nine relatives that inherit the remaining two-thirds of the estate.
To avoid the complications and disputes within the family, proper planning should be adopted by the families. Due to the evolving nature of inheritance and succession law, proper steps should be taken to understand the inheritance rights. Despite several developments in law, the awareness regarding inheritance law is on a downward graph and hence it is the need of the hour.