A Summary of the Succession Laws in India

If an individual passes away without leaving a valid Will or any other form of testamentary dispositions such as a trust or a net-worth report for the legal heirs to act on, the succession laws of the land take over the procedure of the succession, this type of succession is referred to as the Intestate Succession and the deceased is referred to as an “Intestate”.

Understanding the succession laws in India is crucial for an individual’s estate planning process and to ensure that their assets are passed on smoothly and in accordance with their wishes.

In India, succession laws are primarily governed by personal laws based on an individual’s religion. The personal laws determine the rules of inheritance, which include who can inherit the assets, the order of preference, and the share allotted to each law recognized heir. There are three types of succession laws based on the religion of the intestate; Hindu Succession Act, 1956, Indian Succession Act, 1925, and Muslim Sharia Law.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956

The Act governs the succession and inheritance rights of those males and females who are considered Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, and Jain by religion and have died intestate. The Act provides different rules and order of succession for male and female intestates. The legal heirs of the intestates are classified and divided into different classes.

For a Hindu male dying intestate as per the section 8 of the Act, there are four classes of heirs identified. The pattern of succession are as follows:

Class I heirs – Wife, Children, Mother of the male intestate 

Class II heirs – The class II heirs are further classified and grouped under 9 entries, some of the important entries are: Entry I – Father; Entry II – Brother, Sister; etc.

Class III & Class IV heirs – Agnates (Relatives through male lineage) such as Son/daughter of father’s brother and Cognates (Relatives through female lineage) such as son/ daughter of father’s sister.

The hierarchy of the classes are followed in such a way that the class I heirs are given preference over class II, class II over Class III and so on with Each member of a class and entry is entitled to equal share of the property.

For a Hindu female dying intestate as per section 15 of the Act, the heirs are classified into five classes and the pattern of succession are as follows:

Class I heirs – Husband and children

Class II heirs – Heirs of husband (succession takes place as it would have happened for a male Hindu dying intestate)

Class III heirs – Father and mother of the deceased female Hindu

Class IV heirs – Heirs of father of the deceased

Class V heirs – Heirs of mother of the deceased. 

In the absence of Class I heirs, the entire property of the female Hindu will fall entirely to the heirs of her husband, as it would have happened for a Hindu male dying intestate. The heirs of the husband may or may not have a cordial relationship or even touch with the deceased during her lifetime. Under 16 of the Act, in the absence of husband, children, mother-in-law, and father-in-law of a married deceased Hindu female, even in the presence of living and own siblings, the Hindu female’s entire property would vest in the brothers and sisters of the husband.

The Indian Succession Act, 1925 

Intestate succession is applied when a person dies without leaving any written instructions on the fate of his assets, whereas, the succession wherein the deceased person leaves his thoughts and wishes on transferring his assets to his legal heirs through a valid written Will is known as testamentary succession.

In India laws of testamentary succession of all persons, except those belonging to the Muslim community is dealt under the Indian Succession Act, 1925. The Act also deals with the intestate succession of the people belonging to communities other than Hindu and Muslim communities.

The succession of a Christian dying without a valid Will is governed under the Indian Succession Act, 1925.

The rule of succession under the Act is applied for both men and women, and are as follows:

Sl. No.Where the Deceased is Survived by Only:
Share of Assets
Complete assets i.e.; 1/1
2Spouse and children
Spouse: 1/3
Children: 2/3 
3Spouse and near blood relations of the deceased 
Spouse: 1/2
Relatives: 1/2 
4Only children
5Only blood relations
6No legal heirs (i.e., spouse, children, and blood relations)
1/1 to Government 

The Muslim Shariat Act, 1937

Succession of a person following Muslim religion takes place as per the Muslim Shariat Act, 1937 which is based on the Islamic principles and governs the succession rights of the Muslims. Muslim law is governed as per the concept of Sharia, which includes the rules for the distribution of property among the heirs. The general rule of succession is that that male heirs receive double the share of female heirs, and the relatives from the father’s side have priority over those from the mother’s side.

The above discussed succession laws are essential for individuals and families to effectively plan their estate and to initiate an orderly transfer of the assets to their legal heirs. A proper estate planning can help individuals navigate the intricacies of succession laws and safeguard their legacy for future generations ensuring proper financial security and well-being of their loved ones.

Disclaimer: The views / the analysis contained therein do not constitute a legal opinion and is not intended to be an advice. Readers of this document are advised to seek their own professional advice before taking any course of action or decision, based on this document.

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