The laws of inheritance applicable in India for Hindus dying intestate i.e. without leaving behind a will, are covered by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Act’) and amended over the years by the government to evolve into the state in which it exists today. There are several concepts associated with the Hindu inheritance laws which one must appreciate to understand the position of women and rights guaranteed to them by provisions of the Act, such as :-
The term ‘Hindu’ as under the Act – the Act is applicable to all ‘Hindus’ where the term has been expanded to include all its forms or developments including Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and also followers of Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj. Essentially the act applies to everyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion.
Coparcener – a coparcener is a person who acquires an interest or right to in property of the Hindu undivided family (‘HUF’) at birth. Thus, a coparcener has a right to inherit the property of his family simply by virtue of being born into the family.
Classification of heirs under the Act – The act classifies the various relatives of the deceased Hindu into different classes of heirs and provides the preferential order in which property is to be inherited by each class.
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Daughters right in father’s property under the Act
When the Act first came into force, its provisions did not bestow the benefits of coparcenary upon daughters, thus only boys born into the family had an automatic right to the properties of the HUF. However, by an important amendment passed in 2005, the Act extended the title and benefits of coparcenary to women as well, giving them the same privileges as that of a son. Therefore, after the amendment, both sons and daughters were given the right of inheritance in the property of their deceased parents in equal shares.
An important aspect of the amendment which was a point of contention among various courts of the country was the retrospective applicability of the amendment. The Indian judiciary was split on the issue whether the amendment would only apply to cases of intestate death of Hindus after 09.09.2005 (date when the amendment came into force) or to cases prior to such date as well.
Therefore, to bring clarity and finality on this question, the matter was referred to a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court which in August 2020 has settled the law on this issue. The final outcome of the court ruling has extended the benefits of the 2005 amendment and coparcenary to all women irrespective of the date on which the amendment was brought into force.
Thus, as the law stands today, daughters have equal rights of inheritance as that of sons born as coparceners into the family.
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Are there any specific rules that apply only to properties left behind by women?
A property left behind by a woman should be divided equally among her children and her husband. If a child had already passed away, then that child's share would be divided between his children. If there is no spouse, child or grandchild alive then the property would be divided between her parents. If her parents have also passed away then the property would be divided between the heirs of her parents.
Widow’s right in her husband’s property under the Act
Section 10 in The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 talks about the distribution of the property in situation where a husband dies intestate and says that distribution of property shall take place among the heirs in class I of the Schedule wherein the Rule 1 specifically states that the intestate’s widow, or if there are more widows than one, all the widows together shall take one share.
For instance, if a husband dies intestate and is survived by two widows and a son, heirs in Class I shall take the property simultaneously and to the exclusion of all others. Here according to the provisions of Rule 1 of section 10, both the widows of the husband shall take one-half share in the property of the husband and the other half shall go to his son.
In situations where a husband dies intestate leaving two widows and no sons, both of them shall inherit the property equally, i.e. both of them shall be entitled to one-half share, there being no other Class I heir.
A remarried widow can keep the share of her dead husband’s property. In 2008, the Supreme Court of India decided that a widow who remarries cannot be deprived of a share in her dead husband’s property as according to it the widow becomes an absolute owner of the deceased husband’s riches to the extent that her share under the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act 1956 would prevail over the earlier Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act 1856.
The Supreme Court of India did not concur with the provisions of the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act 1856 which says that all rights and interests which any widow may have in her deceased husband’s property by way of maintenance, or by inheritance, shall cease upon her re-marriage and set it aside.
The Supreme Court, in its decision, observed that the Hindu Succession amendment Act has brought about a huge change in Shastric Hindu law and made Hindu widows eligible and equal in the matter of inheritance and succession along with male heirs.
The Apex court held that section 4 of Hindu Marriage Act would have overriding effect over the text of any Hindu law including the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act.
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How can a lawyer help you?
Sometimes the law and the legal framework can get confusing and difficult to understand, especially when the issue is related to family property and rights of inheritance. In such a scenario, one may not realize how to determine the legal issue, the area to which the issue relates to, whether the issue requires going to court and, how the court procedure works. Seeing a property lawyer and getting some legal advice can enable you to comprehend your choices and can give you the certainty to enable you to determine your legal recourse.
An experienced attorney can give you expert advice on how to handle your property matter owing to his/her years of experience in handling such cases. A is an expert on the laws and can help you avoid significant mistakes that may cause financial harm or will require future legal proceedings to correct. Thus, by hiring an attorney you can ensure avoiding delay and can get your share in the property as quickly as possible.