It is an Act relating to the succession and inheritance of property. This Act lays down a comprehensive and uniform system which incorporates both succession and inheritance. This Act also deals with intestate or unwilled (testamentary) succession. Therefore, this Act combines all the aspects of Hindu succession and brings them into its ambit. This article shall further explore the applicability, and the basic terms and definitions and the rules for succession in the case of males and females.
Section 2 of this Act lays down the applicability of this Act. This Act is applicable to:
- Any person who is Hindu by religion or any of its forms or developments, including a Virashaiva, Lingayat, or a Brahmo, Prarthna or Arya Samaj follower.
- Any person who is a Buddhist, Sikh or Jain by religion.
- Any other person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Jew, unless it is proved that such person would not be governed by Hindu law or custom.
- This Act shall also extend to the whole of India.
However, this Section shall not apply to any Scheduled Tribes covered under the meaning of Article 366 of the Constitution, unless otherwise directed by the Central Government by a notification in the Official Gazette.
Which properties does this Act not apply to?
Section 5 lays down the properties that this Act does not apply to:
- Any property whose succession comes under the regulation of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 by reasons of the provision under Section 21 of the Special Marriage Act, 1954. Section 21 of the Special Marriage Act states that succession to the property of any person whose marriage is solemnized under this Act and the property of the issue of such marriage shall be governed by the Special Marriage Act.
- Any estate or property which goes to the single heir through the terms of any agreement or covenant formed between the Ruler of an Indian State and the Government or through any enactment formed and passed before the commencement of this Act.
- The Valliamma Thampuran Kovilagam Estate and the Palace Fund under the administration of the Palace Administration Board due to the powers conferred under the Proclamation (IX of 1124), dated 29th June 1949, given by the Maharaja of Cochin.
Types of succession
When the succession of the property is governed by a testament or a will, then it is referred to as testamentary succession. Under Hindu law, a Hindu male or female can make the will for the property, including that of a share in the undivided Mitakshara coparcenary property, in favour of anyone. This should be valid and legally enforceable. The distribution will be under the provisions of the will and not through the laws of inheritance. Where the will is not valid, or not legally enforceable, then property can devolve through the law of inheritance.
Intestate has already been defined above as someone who dies leaving behind no will or testament. When such a situation happens, then this property will be distributed among the legal heirs by following the laws of inheritance.
Rules for ownership in the case of males
Section 8 lays down the general rules for the succession in the case of males. Section 8 applies in cases where succession opens after the commencement of the Act. It is not necessary that the death of the male Hindu, whose property has to be devolved by inheritance, should take place after the commencement of this Act. For example: if a father, during his lifetime, settles his property in favour of his wife and after the death of his wife, wishes that it should pass to his daughter, and the daughter dies after the commencement of this Act, then the succession will open and the property would devolve according to Section 8.
Classification of heirs
Heirs are classified into four categories:
- Class I
- Class II
- Class III (Agnates)
- Class IV (Cognates)
Class I heirs
- Sons of a predeceased son
- Widows of a predeceased son
- Son of a predeceased son of a predeceased son
- Widows of a predeceased son of a predeceased son
- Daughter of a predeceased son
- Daughter of a predeceased daughter
- Daughter of a predeceased son of a predeceased son
- Son of a predeceased daughter
- Daughter of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased daughter
- Son of a predeceased daughter
- Son of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased daughter
- Daughter of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased son
- Daughter of a predeceased son of a predeceased daughter
All of them will inherit simultaneously and even if any of them is present, then the property will not go to the Class II heirs. All Class I heirs have absolute rights in the property and the share of a Class I heir is separate, and no person can claim a right by birth in this inherited property. A Class I heir cannot be divested of his/her property, even by remarriage or conversion etc.
Until the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, the Class I heirs consisted of twelve heirs, eight of which were females and four were males, but after 2005, four new heirs were added, of which eleven are female and five are male.
Class II heirs
The Class II heirs are categorized and are given the property in the following order:
- Son’s Daughter’s son
- Son’s daughter’s daughter
- Daughter’s son’s son, daughter’s son’s daughter, daughter’s daughter’s son, daughter’s daughter’s daughter
- Brother’s son, sister’s son, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter
- Father’s father, father’s mother
- Father’s widow, brother’s widow
- Father’s brother, father’s sister
- Mother’s father, mother’s mother
- Mother’s brother, mother’s sister
Class III heirs
This consists of the agnates of the deceased. Class III heirs only inherit the property when none form the earlier classes gets the property.
An agnate is a person who is related to the intestate only through male relatives. An agnate can be a male or a female.
Rules of preference among agnates
- Each generation is referred to as a degree. The first degree is intestate.
- Degrees of ascent mean ancestral or upwards directions.
- Degrees of descent means in the descendants or downwards direction.
- Where an agnate has both ascent and descent degrees, each has to be considered separately.
- An agnate having descent degree will be preferred over the one having ascent degree.
- When two agnates have ascent and descent degrees, the one having lesser number of ascent degrees will be preferred.
Class IV heirs
A cognate (Class IV) is someone who was related to the intestate through mixed relatives, in terms of sex. For example, an intestate’s paternal aunt’s son is his cognate, but his paternal uncle’s daughter will be an agnate.
Therefore, to sum up it can be said that the property of the Hindu male devolves in the following manner:
- First, to the heirs in Class I.
- Second, if there exists no heir of Class I, then it goes to Class II heirs.
- Third, if none from the Class I or II exists, then it goes to the agnates (Class III).
- Fourth, if no one from the earlier three classes exists, then it goes to the cognates (Class IV).