Who Inherits a Hindu Woman’s Property?

The Hindu Succession Act in 1956 was enacted to lay down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance of a person following Hindu religion. Though this landmark legislation aimed to provide equitable rights to Hindu women, including in matters of inheritance for widows, there are still certain provisions that restrict a woman’s legal heirs from inheriting her property.

A quick skimming of the world around us shows the horrific incidents women endure in the name of inheritance. Here we discuss the real life story of Narayani based on the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Om Prakash vs Radhacharan (2009) 15 SCC to throw light on some important and tricky aspects of the succession pattern of a Hindu woman dying without a Will:

Narayani was a young and doting new bride, welcomed to her marital home with flowers and love. Unfortunately, everything changed within three months of her marriage when her husband Ram Kumar met with an accident and left her to be a widow. Time was too short for her to get hold of the pain of losing her beloved and the mourning was cut short by another horror when her in-laws started blaming her for her husband’s unforeseen death. They threw her out of her marital home within days of the fateful event. Devastated and in pain, she went to her home.  

Though her spirits were low, Narayani was determined to get back on her feet. Her parents, who have been through thick and thin, supported her. She educated herself, and within no time she secured employment. Through her hard work she made huge savings and investments, but unfortunately, she hadn’t foreseen the fate of her wealth in her absence. She was at peace with the belief that her assets would reach the hands of her parents and loved ones.

Narayani in her late 50s passed away without having made a Will. When her mother filed for a succession certificate, at the same time, on learning of her passing and the assets she left behind, the sons of sister of her late husband initiated a claim for the possession of her wealth. A legal suit arose when her mother filed a petition against the claim. The Court, considering the fact that she has not left any valid Will applied the laws under Section 15 and 16 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The court took in consideration the literal reading of the section and ruled in favour of the heirs of the husband.

Narayani, if alive, would never even in her wildest imagination, have made the heirs of her husband her successors. 

Lack of knowledge on succession laws and the importance of succession planning has resulted in this mishap. Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act states that a female Hindu dying intestate (i.e., a person who has died without having made a Will) shall devolve in the following manner:

  • Firstly, to the sons and daughters (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter) and the husband.
  • Secondly, to the heirs of husband
  • Third, upon the mother and father of the deceased woman
  • Fourth, upon the heirs of the Father
  • Lastly, upon the heirs of the Mother.  

The Hindu inheritance laws of India enable the assets of a woman dying without a valid Will to be shared by her children and husband equally, and in cases where the woman’s husband has died and has no children, in such scenarios the assets of the deceased woman will be passed to her mother-in-law or to the rest of the relatives of the husband.

The Hindu Succession Act was created during a time when the stereotypical notion that women cannot acquire property by themselves was prevalent. Though the time and situation had changed, the fact that the laws are still not amended results in unfair judgements for the heirs of a deceased female Hindu. 

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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