The Supreme Court in recent years has always taken a gender-neutral stand when it came to division of property between daughters and sons. The judiciary continues to take progressive steps towards making succession law more women friendly. In its 11 August 2020 landmark judgment in Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that daughters and sons have equal coparcenary rights in a Hindu undivided family (HUF). In its decision, the Supreme Court clarified two points:
coparcenary rights are acquired by daughters on their birth; and
fathers need not have been alive when the 2005 amendment to the Hindu Succession Act 1956 was passed.
Supreme Court Judgment on Parents’ Property
The 2005 amendment conferred equal status on both sons and daughters of coparceners. Prior to the 2005 amendment, coparcenary rights were granted only to male descendants (ie, sons) of coparceners. However, while the 2005 amendment sought to grant equal rights to sons and daughters, the wording gave rise to various lacunae, which led the Supreme Court to issue contradictory rulings on this issue.
Until the Vineeta Sharma judgment, equal status was granted only to daughters whose fathers were alive when the amendment came into force on 9 September 2005. The Supreme Court upheld this view in 2015. However, in 2018 the Supreme Court issued a contradictory ruling in Danamma v Amar, granting two daughters of a coparcener rights in their father's property even though he had passed away in 2001.
According to the decision in Vineeta Sharma, equal rights conferred on daughters of coparceners by the 2005 amendment apply from birth, irrespective of when their father dies. The Supreme Court has clarified that the 2005 amendment applies retrospectively and not only in cases where the father was alive on the date on which the 2005 amendment took effect.
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Supreme Court Judgments On Ancestral Property
The decision of Vineeta Sharma has important implications for division of ancestral property. This ruling applies subject to the condition that the ancestral property should not have been partitioned by the father before 20 December 2004. As long as the property remained ancestral property and was not partitioned as of this date, a daughter can now claim an interest therein.
As per Hindu Law, a person automatically acquires the right to his or her share in the ancestral property at the time of their birth. An ancestral property is the one which is inherited up to four generations of male lineage. A property is regarded ancestral under two conditions - if it is inherited by the father from his father, that is the grandfather after his death; or inherited from the grandfather who partitioned the property during his lifetime. In case, the father acquired the property from grandfather as a gift, it will not be regarded as an ancestral property.
A son can claim his share in an ancestral property even during the lifetime of his father. In any case, the applicant seeking his share in the property must prove his succession. However, the act does not count a stepson (the son of the other parent with another partner, deceased or otherwise) among the Class I heirs.
The court, in some cases, allows a stepson to inherit the father’s property. For instance, in a case addressed by the Bombay High Court, the applicant was the son of a deceased Hindu woman’s issue with her first husband. The woman acquired the property from her second husband who did not have any legal heir except his wife. The court upheld the stepson’s claim and declared that after the woman’s death, her son - the stepson of the second husband - could claim his succession over the property. This decision was made when the nephews and grand-nephews of the deceased second husband claimed title to the property.
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Supreme Court Judgments On Father's Property
According to the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, a son or a daughter has the first right as the Class I heirs over the self-acquired property of his or her father if he dies intestate (without leaving a will). As a coparcener, an individual also has the legal right to acquire his or her share in an ancestral property. But in certain situations, a son may not receive his share in his father’s property. These situations include a father bequeathing his property to someone else by way of will.
The Supreme Court has time and again given progressive decisions and has made devolution of property a more equitable arrangement.
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