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Key Takeaways

  • The Hindi Succession Act of 1956 provides a standardized system of property inheritance and regulates intestate succession.
  • Sections 25-28 of the act provide the grounds for disqualification of inheritance.
  • If a person is disqualified from inheriting any property under the Act, the property would devolve as if the person died intestate.

Introduction

One of the most significant objectives driving the evolution of family law was to give members unambiguous and sound security. The fundamental basis of Hindu society is the combined and undivided Hindu family.

Laws of Succession are the legal principles that govern the disposition of a deceased person's property. In Hindu law, succession is classified into two types: intestate succession and testamentary succession. The Hindi Succession Act of 1956 was created to provide a standardized system of property inheritance and regulates intestate succession. The Act has been amended to reflect evolving socio-economic needs. It applies to all persons who are Hindu according to the Act's definition. For Hindus who are subject to the application of this Act, it provides a detailed framework of property devolution through intestate succession. Intestate refers to an individual who has died without leaving a will.

The Act replaces the unique laws of succession under the Dayabhaga and Mitakshara systems with a uniform law based on natural ties and proximity in a relationship. A person's inheritance rights are not absolute under Hindu Law. Regardless of the closeness of the connection, a person may be barred from inheriting property. The Hindu succession act retains the dual manner of property devolution under the Mitakshara school. It bases its succession law on the notion of propinquity, which is the choice of heirs based on proximity of kinship.

However, regardless of the proximity of the connection, a person may be still disqualified from inheriting property.

Heirs under the Hindu Succession Act

According to Section 3(1)(f) of the Act, an 'heir' is any male or female individual who is entitled to the intestate's property. When a male member of the coparcenary dies intestate, the order of succession would be as follows

  1. Class I heirs
  2. Class II heirs ( if no heir in Class I)
  3. Agnates (if no heir in Class I and Class II)
  4. Cognates (If no heir in Class I, Class II and Agnates)

In the case of a female member dying intestate, the order of succession would be:

  1. Sons and daughters (if predeceased, their children) and husband
  2. Heirs of husband
  3. Mother and father
  4. Heirs of father
  5. Heirs of mother

If no one is present, the property shall transfer entirely to the lawful heirs named in Class I. Class I heirs include the wife, children, mother, children of the dead son/daughter, widow of the deceased son, and a few others. The assets would be divided equally among the widow, mother, and each of the children.If Class I heirs do not exist, then the property goes to the Class II heirs and so on.

Grounds for Disqualification

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 streamlined Hindu law by reducing disqualifications to a bare minimum. The current Act only allows for two sorts of disqualifications based on a breach of the fundamental principles of inheritance namely; murder and conversion. Sections 25-28 of the act provide for disqualification of inheritance.

Section 25- Disqualification of Murderers

Section 25 of the Act disqualifies murderers from inheriting property intestate. It states thata person who commits or assists in the conduct of murder is ineligible to inherit the property of the person killed or any other property in furtherance of the succession to which he or she assisted in the commission of the murder. Two categories of murderers are disqualified under Section 25 of the Hindu Succession Act- those who murderedor abetted the murder of their propositus in furtherance of succession and those who murdered or abetted the commission of murder of someone other than their propositus.

If any individual is found guilty of murdering the deceased intestate, he or she must renounce his or her rights to the deceased's property. According to the Privy Council in the case ofSmt. Kasturi Devi v. D.D.C[AIR 1976 SC 2105], on the basis of equity and justice, the murderer should be barred from succeeding to the person he murdered and would not be recognised as the new descent, which is viewed as non-existent.

The principle is that if murder is done in order to expedite succession, the perpetrator should not be allowed to reap the benefits of the crime.

Section 26- Disqualification of Converts Heir

The disqualification of a converted descendant is provided for in Section 26 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. It states that the conversion of an heir does not prevent succession. However, the provision excludes the convert's children, not the heir who has converted, from inheriting property. The heir's children and descendants are not eligible to inherit unless they are Hindus at the moment the succession is opened.

Conversion of a Hindu to another faith was regarded as a disqualification under traditional Hindu law, which was repealed by the Caste Disability Removal Act of 1850.The converted heir's property shall be controlled by the personal law of the community to which their parent has converted. For example, Muslim Law will regulate the inheritance of the property of a Hindu who converts to Islam. The Court ruled in Balchand Jairam Lalwant v. Nazneem Khalid Qureshi[AIR 2018 Bom.103] that the disqualification under this clause relates to the convert's offspring, not the child/heir who has converted. This section applies exclusively to intestate succession, not testamentary succession.

Other Provisions Relating to Disqualification

Section 24- Widow Remarriage

The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 repealed Section 24 of the Act. Remarriage of three types of widows before succession opens disentitled them to inheritance under this provision.These are the widows of sons, the widows of son's son, and the widows of brothers. Even if they remarried, a widowed mother and stepmother are not barred from inheriting. This was held in the case Kasturi Devi V/s Deputy Div. Commr.[AIR 1976 SC 2595]. The underlying principle of this provision was that the widow is the surviving half of her husband, and when she remarries, she ceases to be such and therefore cannot inherit.

Section 27- Succession when Heir Disqualified

Section 27 of the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 states that if a person is disqualified from inheriting any property under this act, the property would devolve as if the person died intestate, which means that no claim or right to succeed can be traced via the disqualified person.The disqualified heir cannot accede to any title or privilege. The disqualified heir is not eligible for his portion of the property, but their child or class I heirs are. Thus, according to the rules, the property will be distributed among class I heirs in a Hindu Undivided Family.

Section 28- No Disqualification for Disease, Deformities etc.

According to Section 28 of the Hindu Succession Act, no person shall be barred from succeeding to any property on the premise of any sickness, defect, or deformity, save as allowed in the Act, or on any other cause whatever. This section is applicable to both Testamentary and Intestate succession laws. In the case of Chandi v. Bhagyadhar[1976 AIR CAL 356], the court held that disease, deformity, and unchastity are no longer grounds for disqualification.

Conclusion

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 was significantly amended by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005, which abolished Section 24, which discriminated against women. Rules of disinheritance based on lunacy, idiocy and unchastity were also rightly repealed. Under this legislation, murderers or abettors of murder and descendants of an intestate convert's heir have been excluded. Unless one is barred under these disqualifications, a person can inherit the property.In the absence of any legal heir, such property is transferred to the government.


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