Wills / Trusts

Intestate Succession or Succession without a WILL: Things you should know

Soumya Shekhar
Soumya Shekhar 05 min read 22437 Views
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Intestate succession means a succession without a will. A will generally dictates how a person plans to transfer his assets or properties after his death to his/her heirs. A person dies intestate when he has not bequeathed his properties according to a will. Succession can either be testate or intestate. 

Meaning of Testate Succession

In some cases, a person leaves behind a Will, which specifies property distribution after their death. In such cases, the Will controls succession.

When succession takes place in this manner, it is known as testamentary succession

Meaning of Intestate Succession

In other cases, a person does not leave behind a will. In such cases, intestate succession law controls succession. Thus, the persons who become entitled to the deceased's properties are the deceased's, legal heirs. In India, the succession law applicable to a deceased's estate depends on their religion. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc., have different succession laws. When succession takes place in this manner, it is known as intestate succession. 

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Intestate Succession under Hindu Law

If the deceased is a Hindu, Hindu Succession law will govern the succession. The Hindu Law of Intestate Succession is in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. 

Two Types of Property

Under Hindu Law, the property is of two types: 

  1. Joint Family Property: The Hindu Joint Family is an ancient social structure prevailing in Indian society. In Hindu Law, specific properties are considered Joint Family Property. Generally, all property inherited from one's father, paternal grandfather, and paternal great-grandfather are considered Joint Family Property. 

  2. Self-Acquired Property: All other properties are considered the Self-Acquired Property of the respective person. The most unambiguous indication of Self-Acquired Property is that it is acquired with the money of one's efforts.

This distinction is important because, depending on where you reside, different rules govern the succession of Joint Family Property and Self-Acquired Property. 

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The succession of Joint Family Property

Depending on where you reside, you will be governed either by Dayabhaga Law or Mitakshara Law. Generally, Hindus living in West Bengal, Orissa, and parts of Assam, are governed by Mitakshara Law, and Mitakshara Law governs all other Hindus. Both of these refer to old schools of religious Hindu law that prevailed in these respective geographical regions. Once upon a time, these schools of law governed the substantial part of Hindu succession. Today, there are of minimal significance. Legally, its only importance in the present is determining the order of intestate succession.

Section 6 of the Hindu Succession Act governs the Mitakshara Joint Family Property's succession. When a coparcener dies, their share in the Joint Family Property passes to the legal heirs according to the rules contained in this Section. The process is as follows: 

  1. You divide the whole joint family property amongst the deceased and their legal heirs. Usually, the deceased, their wife, their children (both sons and daughters), and their parents get equal shares.

  2. The share the deceased person receives becomes his self-acquired property. This share passes to the deceased's legal heirs according to the rules governing Self-Acquired Property's succession (see below).

The succession of Self-Acquired Property

The rules governing the succession of Self-Acquired Property of the deceased varies based on the gender of the deceased. However, the same rules apply to all Hindus regardless of whether Dayabhaga Law or Mitakshara Law governs them. 

For male Hindus, there are four categories of legal heirs: Class I heirs, Class II heirs, agnates, and cognates. The Schedule of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 specifies Class I heirs and Class II heirs. An agnate is a person who is (i) neither a Class I heir nor a Class II heir, but (ii) is a descendant of the deceased through a pure male line. A cognate is a person who is (i) neither a Class I heir nor a Class II heir, but (ii) is a descendant of the deceased through a line consisting of both males and females. The order of intestate succession in self-acquired property is as follows:

  1. Class I Heirs: If any Class I heir[s] exist, they get the deceased's whole Self-Acquired Property. If more than one such heir exists, they both get equal shares. The deceased's wife, sons, daughters, and mother are notable Class I heirs. However, the father of the deceased is not a Class I heir. 

  2. Class II Heirs: If not a single Class I heir exists, the whole Self-Acquired Property of the deceased goes to the Class II heirs. The deceased's father, brothers, and sisters are notable Class II heirs. If the father is alive, he takes the whole property. If he isn't alive, then the brothers and sisters take the property in equal shares. 

  3. Agnates: If there are no Class I and Class II heirs, the deceased's agnates take the whole of the Self-Acquired Property. 

  4. Cognates: If there are no Class I and Class II heirs, the deceased's cognates take the whole of the Self-Acquired Property. 

A different set of rules applies to female Hindus. For female Hindus, the order of intestate succession for legal heirs is: (i) sons, daughters, and husband; (ii) heirs of the husband; (iii) parents; (iv) heirs of the father; and (vi) heirs of the mother. Each category is preferred to the later ones, in that order of preference. All heirs of the same class get equal shares of the property. 

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Position of Illegitimate Children

The intestate succession of an illegitimate child is only through his mother. An illegitimate child's share in intestate succession is restricted to his mother and not his father.  

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