When will a widow be entitled to inherit the property of her father-in-law? The answer will depend on the applicable law of inheritance of property in India. The distribution of a father's property occurs per the inheritance property law in India. Let us see when a widow can inherit her father-in-law's property.
The Inheritance Law in India
There is no uniform inheritance property law in India. The law of Inheritance varies based on one's religion. Thus, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc., are governed by their own separate inheritance laws.
The religion of the deceased determines the law of inheritance that will govern the succession of their estate. Hence, when a Hindu dies, then the Hindu law of inheritance and succession applies to his estate.
Inheritance Property Law in India
Succession under Hindu law is found in two laws: the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and the Indian Succession Act, 1925. These laws govern who the estate of a Hindu deceased will pass to on their death.
When Can a Widow Inherit Her Father-in-Law's Property?
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Inheritance/succession is of two types:
Testamentary Succession: When the deceased leaves behind a will, the instructions in the will alone govern the deceased's property's succession. Such succession is called testamentary succession. The Indian Succession Act, 1925, governs testamentary succession.
Intestate Succession: In other cases, the deceased does not leave behind a Will. In such cases, the law decides which persons the estate of the deceased will succeed to. When succession takes place in this manner, it is known as intestate succession. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governs intestate succession.
Depending on the circumstances, a widow can inherit her father-in-law's property through both these modes.
By Testamentary Succession
Every adult and a mentally sound person is capable of executing a Will. The person who executes a will is known as a testator. A Will, by definition, specifies to whom the properties of the testator will pass to on their death. These beneficiaries are known as the legatees of the Will. A testator has almost unlimited discretion to decide the legatees of their Will (who need not their family members or relatives) and how to divide their estate amongst the legatees.
Thus, if the deceased father-in-law has left behind a Will, and that Will specifies that a widow will be a legatee of a specified share of his estate, the widow will be entitled to inherit that share of the father-in-law's estate.
On the contrary, there is also a corresponding risk. If the deceased father-in-law has left behind a Will, but the Will has not allotted a share of his estate to the widow, then the widow cannot claim any share of the deceased's estate.
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By Intestate Succession
If the deceased Hindu has not left behind a Will, the succession of their estate will be governed by the rules contained in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
Under Hindu Law, the property is of two types: Joint Family property and Self-Acquired property.
Joint Family Property: All property inherited from one's ancestors is considered Joint Family Property.
Self-Acquired Property: All other properties are considered the Self-Acquired Property of the respective person. The clearest indication of Self-Acquired Property is that its has been acquired with the money of one's own efforts.
The widow will inherit some portion of the father-in-law's Self-Acquired Property. The Self-Acquired Property of the deceased father-in-law will pass to his Class I heirs. The list of Class I heirs is contained in the Schedule of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The widow (of the deceased's son who died before the deceased) is a Class I heir. The deceased's widow, mother, sons, and daughters are other notable Class I heirs. Hence, the widow will definitely get a share of the father-in-law's Self-Acquired Property. However, the share of the father-in-law's Self-Acquired Property she will inherit will depend on the number of Class I heirs alive.
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The share will be determined by this process:
The deceased's widow, sons, daughters, and mother take equal shares of the property.
If any son, or daughter, of the deceased, has died before him, then the share of that son/daughter will be divided amongst their widow, sons, and daughters. In the case of a son, his sons and daughters will take one share, and his widow will take the second share, of that son's share.
Thus, the widow of the father-in-law will take her share in Step 2. The extent of her share will depend on how many of the father-in-law's sons and daughters and mothers, and the widow's own sons and daughters, are alive.
Illustration— The deceased X (the father-in-law) has been survived by his only daughter D, mother M, and the widow W of a son who died before him. This widow W has a single daughter WD of her own.
The Self-Acquired Property of the deceased will be divided equally amongst his mother M, dead son, and daughter D. Thus, D, M, and the dead son each get 1/3 of the property.
The 1/3 share of the dead son will then be divided equally amongst his widow W and the daughter WD of the widow. Thus, the widow W and her daughter WD both get 1/6 of the deceased's property each.
Hence, the widow is entitled to inherit 1/6 of the self-acquired property of the father-in-law.
Indian inheritance law gives more rights to a daughter than a daughter-in-law in father-in-law's property. The widow would be entitled to her deceased husband's share in an intestate succession.