Generally, succession refers to inheritance that follows upon the death of an individual. Both the State and Centre are empowered to legislate on succession. Succession is a very dynamic and perplexing issue in India. It is divided into two types; a.) Testamentary succession b.) Intestate succession.
Under Hindu Law, a testamentary succession occurs when a person leaves behind a Last Will & Testament (“Will”), which specifies the distribution of property after their death, and subsequently the process of succession takes place. However, when a person doesn’t leave behind a Will before their death, intestate succession will occur – the legal heirs of the deceased are entitled to their properties. The Hindu Succession Act contains the rules governing succession rights of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, etc and extends to the majority of Indians.
Typically a Will is a declaration expressing the desires of a person with regard to his estate and provides for its transfer upon his death. If the Will is valid and enforceable, the estate of the deceased would be distributed in its accordance. The assets of the deceased, in these cases, are distributed as per the provisions of the Indian Succession Act. The succession is an easy process, however complexities arise when there is more than one heir, given the fact that some assets are more lucrative than the others.
A person is required to obtain legal documents from a competent court, which includes a letter of administration, that is, an instrument for distributing the assets of the deceased among the heirs in terms of the Will. A Testamentary Petition has to be filed in district or High Court to acquire the same, or a succession certificate has to be obtained which is issued to a person claiming the authority to inherit debts, securities and any other movable assets. It lays down the right to distribute the assets of the deceased, and clarifies the position of their legal heirs. A Succession Certificate may be obtained in cases where the deceased is a Hindu who has left a Will upon his death, where joint family property of a Hindu Family is involved, or where letters of administration are not required.
Types of property under Hindu Law
- Joint Hindu Family Property: Here, usually, all property inherited from one’s father, paternal grandfather, and paternal great-grandfather are considered Joint Family Property.
- Self-Acquired Property: All the properties other than Joint Hindu Family are considered the Self-Acquired Property.
This is important because there are varied rules that govern the succession of Joint Hindu Family Property and Self-Acquired Property.
Rules of intestate succession for Hindu Male
As per the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, when a Hindu male dies intestate then the claim can be made in the following order:
- Class-I legal heirs have the first right to claim and have equal rights to the assets. Class-I heirs include mother, spouse and children. If any child has died, then their children and spouses, if any, have an equal share
- When any of the Class-I heirs are absent, then Class-II heirs can make a claim. It includes father, sibling, living children’s grandchildren, sibling’s children etc
- Where Class-I and Class-II heirs are absent, the Agnates (distant blood relatives of male father’s side) can make a claim.
- Where Class-I heirs, Class-II heirs, and Agnates, all are absent, the right of Cognates (distant blood relatives of mother’s side) arises, thereby they can make a claim.
Rules of intestate succession for Hindu Female
As per the provisions of Hindu Succession Act, when a Hindu female dies intestate then the claim can be made in the following order:
- The sons, daughters, and the husband have the right to make the first claim
- The heirs of the husband can make a claim where the first claimants are absent
- Where the first and second claimants are not present, the mother, and the father have the right to make a claim
- The heirs of the father can make a claim in absence of all the above three claimants
- Lastly, if the heirs of the father are also absent, the heirs of the mother can make a claim
The cases where an Hindu dies intestate, without leaving behind any heirs, the property is automatically transferred to the State Government under due process of law.
As per Hindu Law, in cases where the two people die simultaneously and exact timing of death of each cannot be ascertained, it shall be presumed that the older one died first, unless the contrary is proved. A person guilty of murder shall not inherit property. However, his heirs are not so disqualified, and it will be presumed that the murderer died immediately before the death of the murdered person. These provisions are important as they affect the line of succession / ratio of property coming to legal heirs.