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How to Inherit Property in India?
Property

How to Inherit Property in India?

Inheritance of Property After Death

Throughout your life, you have accumulated a number of properties. All of these properties, taken together, comprise your estate. If you want to choose whom your properties pass on to, you should frame a will of inherited property. If you do not frame a will then the property succession will happen as per law of inheritance. Let us see how property is inherited in India. 

Inheritance of Property in India

The Law of Inheritance, also known as the Law of Succession, controls the process of inheritance. Property succession in India is of two types:

  1. Testamentary Succession: You may choose to execute a Will. The Will, by definition, will specify who will inherit what shares of your estate. In such a case, succession will take place according to the instructions contained in your Will. When succession takes place in this manner, it is known as testamentary succession. 

  2. Intestate Succession: You may also choose not to execute a Will. However, someone must still inherit your property. The Law of Inheritance has a built-in contingency for such cases. The law specifies certain persons as your legal heirs, who are entitled to defined shares of your estate after your death. When succession takes place in this manner, it is known as intestate succession. 

Succession will be either testamentary or intestate. It cannot be both at the same time. If you leave behind a Will, the succession of your estate will be testamentary. If you don’t, it will be intestate. 

Legal Inheritance of Property

Testamentary Succession

Testamentary succession will occur if you leave behind a Will. 

Every mentally sound adult is capable of executing a Will. A Will is a legal document that contains instructions to govern the inheritance of your estate. It will specify (i) who will be entitled to your estate and (ii) the shares of your estate each of them will be entitled to. The persons who are entitled to inherit under your Will are known as your legatees. Any person can be a legatee, even a person who is not your relative. 

The Indian Succession Act, 1925 is the uniform Law of Testamentary Succession which governs everyone except Muslims. Muslims are governed by their own Muslim Law of Testamentary Succession. 

You have practically unlimited discretion to decide, your legatees and the shares of your estate each will inherit. Generally, all of your property can be bequeathed by a Will. However, if you are a Muslim, then you cannot bequeath by a Will any more than 1/3 of your estate, unless your legal heirs consent to exceeding this cap. There is no such limitation for anyone else. 

The manner of executing a Will differs, based on whether you are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925 or the Muslim Law of Testamentary Succession: 

  1. Unless you are a Muslim, you must follow the procedure in the Indian Succession Act to execute a Will. The Will must be written, and you must sign or affix your thumb impression on it. It must be attested by at least two witnesses who have seen you sign it. A Will can be executed on plain paper. It is not necessary to execute it on stamp paper. It is also not necessary to be registered. 

  2. If you are a Muslim, there is an even simpler procedure to execute a Will. Your Will need not be signed or written. It can even be oral. There is no need for attesting witnesses. The only requirement is that your intention should be clear. However, oral wills are notoriously difficult to prove. Hence, it is always prudent to execute your Will in writing, even though it is unnecessary. 

After your death, someone has to take the responsibility of carrying out the instructions in your Will. This process is known as the execution of the Will, and the person who does it is known as the executor. They will ensure that the specified shares of your estate are bequeathed to the respective legatees. There can be multiple executors. You have the option to specify the sole executor, or co-executors, of your Will in the Will itself. Remember to take their consent. Do give some thought to your choice of an executor, as this person will be the one responsible for executing your Will. If you don’t appoint an executor, or the executors refuse to act as executors after your death, the competent court can appoint some of your legal heirs as the executor[s]. 

Intestate Succession

Intestate succession will occur if you don’t leave behind a Will. The applicable Law of Intestate Succession will govern the succession of your estate. 

There is no uniform Law of Intestate Succession in India. Rather, it varies based on one’s religion. Thus, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc., are all governed by their own separate Laws of Intestate Succession. For instance, the law for Hindus is contained in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the law for Christians is contained in the Indian Succession Act, 1925, etc. 

Your religion will determine which Law of Intestate Succession will govern the succession of your estate. Thus, if you are a Hindu, then the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 will govern; if you are a Christian, then the Indian Succession Act, 1925 will govern, etc. 

Regardless of which Law of Intestate Succession applies, at the highest level, all of them operate similarly: each of your legal heirs will inherit specific shares of your estate. The legal heirs, and the shares they are each entitled to, will vary based on the number of legal heirs alive and their relationship with each other. For instance, consider a married Hindu male. If you are a Hindu married male, ordinarily, your wife, sons, daughters, and mother are your legal heirs. They will each take an equal share of your estate. Thus, if you are survived by a wife, mother, one son, and one daughter, each of them will take a ¼ of your estate. However, if your daughter is dead, but she is survived by her only daughter (your grand-daughter), the grand-daughter will become an additional legal heir entitled to her mother’s share. Thus, she will inherit ¼ of your estate.  

Hence, the inheritance of property in India is a complex process, and in the absence of a will, is governed by property succession laws. 

Inheritance Rights of Grandchildren in India
Property

Inheritance Rights of Grandchildren in India

You would have often heard of disputes regarding the grandson's right in grandfather's property. In India, the inheritance law for grandchildren is the respective law of succession/inheritance.  

Hence, the right of grandchildren to inherit their grandparents' property must be determined per the applicable law of succession. 

Grandson's Rights in Grandfather's Property

A grandson's right to grandfather's property depends upon the applicable inheritance law. There is no uniform Law of Inheritance in India. Succession and inheritance are subject to various personal laws, depending upon religion. Let us examine a Hindu grandson's rights in his grandfather's property, based on the type of property and the succession rules. 

Property can either be self-acquired or ancestral. Ancestral property is passed on through generations—the right to inherit such property vests since birth and not depend upon the owner's death. A self-acquired property, on the other hand, is a property which one earns oneself. The right to inherit a self-acquired property depends upon the Will of the deceased. In the absence of a will, the inheritance of a self-acquired property depends on the applicable law of intestate succession. While a grandchild or a grandson has equal rights in ancestral property, such rights do not exist in a self-acquired property. Let us see what the rights of a grandson on his grandfather's property are.

When a Grandchild/Grandson Can Inherit Grandfather's Property?

  • Ancestral Property

A grandson's right on his grandfather's ancestral property is by birth. It does not depend upon his father or grandfather's death. A grandson owns a share of his grandfather's property since birth. Distribution of property happens in such a way that each share gets further divided into successive generations. For instance, if the father inherited 50% of the property, the grandsons would inherit 25% each in their grandfather's property. 

 

  • Self-acquired Property

A self-acquired property is inherited either by a will or by rules of succession. If the deceased leaves a will behind, the property is divided according to that. If no will has been left behind, then the applicable law of succession will determine if the grandson will have a right on grandfather's property. 

By a Will

Every adult and a mentally sound person is capable of executing a Will. The person who executes a will is known as a testator. By definition, a Will 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 their Will's legatees (who need not their family members or relatives) and how to divide their estate amongst the legatees. 

Thus, if the deceased grandparent has left behind a Will, and that Will specifies that a grandchild will be a legatee of a specified share of their estate, then that grandchild will be entitled to inherit that share of that grandparent's estate. 

However, if the deceased grandparent has left behind a Will, but the Will has not allotted a share of his estate to the grandchild, then the grandchild cannot claim any share of the deceased's estate. 

Without A Will

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 comprises two types: (1) Joint Family Property and (2) Self-Acquired Property. True to its name, the clearest indication of Self-Acquired Property is that it has been acquired with the money of one's own efforts. 

A grandchild can inherit their grandparent's property only if their parent through whom they are related to that grandparent has died before that grandparent. In such a case, the share of the grandfather's property the parent in question would have inherited if they were alive will be divided amongst the mother (if she is alive) and the grandchild and their siblings. The siblings, and the mother, will divide this share equally. The siblings will both get equal shares. 

Illustration— Grandchild G is related to their grandmother GM through their father F. F has died before GM. F, if he were alive, would have been entitled to inherit 1/3 of GM's property. G has a sibling S, and a surviving mother M. Hence, the 1/3 share of GM will be divided equally amongst M and G+S. Thus, M will take get a 1/6 share, and G and S will divide their 1/6 shares equally amongst themselves. So, finally, the grandchild G will get 1/12 of the grandfather's property. 

Property Inherited From Father

Let us also see how the property inherited from a father differs from the property a grandson inherits from his grandfather: 

  • If the property is ancestral in nature, then the grandson has an equal right as his father in his grandfather's property. 

  • The property inherited from the father's self-acquired property would vest in the child only after the father's death. A grandson, on the other hand, has a right to inherit his grandfather's property since birth. 

  • A father can exclude his child from his self-acquired property, but a grandson cannot be excluded from his grandfather's property if the property is ancestral. 

  • If the self-acquired property of the grandfather passes on to the grandchild, then he can inherit the property only after his father's death. The grandson or grandchild will get the share of his deceased father. 

Hence, the distribution of grandfather's property among his grandchildren depends heavily on the type of property it is. However, to avoid disputes, it is always best to prepare a will beforehand.

Widow's Rights in a Father-in-Law's Property
Property

Widow's Rights in a Father-in-Law's Property

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?

Inheritance/succession is of two types:

  1. 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.

  2. 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. 

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. 

  1. Joint Family Property: All property inherited from one's ancestors is considered Joint Family Property. 

  2. 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. The share will be determined by this process: 

  1. The deceased's widow, sons, daughters, and mother take equal shares of the property. 

  2. 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. 

  1. 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. 

  2. 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.