Distribution of Assets in case a person dies without a will (Intestate)

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On the death of a person, his/her assets are distributed amongst the persons as specified in the will. However, in case a person who dies without leaving a will (i.e. he dies intestate), in such cases the assets would be distributed according to the law based on his/her religion

The succession of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh is governed by the Hindu Succession Act. Muslim succession is governed by the Muslim Law and Christians are governed by the Indian Succession Act.

In this article, we will discover the manner of distribution of assets in case of death of Hindu/Jain/Sikh/Buddhist i.e. those people who are governed by the Hindu Succession Act and they die intestate, i.e. death without a will.

The Hindu Succession Act was passed in 1956, in which females were barred from inheriting assets. But after the amendment in 2005, females have been given equal rights as that of a male for inheritance.

In the Hindu Succession Act, the rules governing the distribution of the assets in case of intestate death of a female are different as compared to the intestate death of a male. The manner of distribution of assets in case of both Male and Females has been discussed below.

Intestate Succession in case of Death of a Male

In case a male dies intestate, i.e. without making a will, his assets shall be distributed according to the Hindu Succession Act and the property is transferred to the legal heirs of the deceased. The legal heirs are further classified into two classes- class I and class II.

Class I heirs:

Class I heirs consist of the immediate family linked by the male. It includes wife, son, daughter and mother. All the people in this class shall equally divide the share among themselves.

For better understanding of class I heirs, refer to the chart given below:

Intestate

Note:

1. In case of Deceased Son:

Wife and children of the deceased son will take his place, and will have the same right as that of him. However if there are two children, they will be considered as one unit, i.e. the two of them will have a joint share which they can further distribute among themselves. And it shall be applicable till two generations forward, i.e. till great grand children.

For instance,

A: Grand Father
B: Grand Mother (Wife of A)
C: Son
D: Wife of Son (Daughter-in-law)
E: Grand son
F: Grand Daughter

In case A dies intestate, then the right of property vests in his son C and his wife B, then both of them will share equal right in the property i.e. ½ each

However, if C was dead, and A dies intestate, then the right in property shall vest in B, D, E & F. Where, B, D, (E & F) will share 1/3rd each of the property. Therefore the individual share of E & F shall be 1/6th each.

2. In case of Deceased Daughter

Children of the deceased daughter will take her place and will have the same right in her share as her. And it shall be applicable till two generations forward, i.e. till great grand children. However the husband of the deceased daughter does not have any right in her share.

A: Grand Father
B: Grand Mother (Wife of A)
C: Daughter
D: Husband of Daughter (Son-in-law)
E: Grand son
F: Grand Daughter

In case A dies intestate, then the right of property vests in his daughter C and his wife B, then both of them will share equal right in the property i.e. ½ each

However, if C was dead, and A dies intestate, then the right in property shall vest in B, E & F. Where, B, (E & F) will share 1/2 each of the property. Therefore the individual share of E & F shall be 1/4th  each.

Class II heirs: Absence of Class I heirs

In case of absence of the class I heirs, as given above, the class II heirs will become entitled to the property of the deceased.

The class II heirs consist of many relatives who have been classified into categories and placed in a hierarchy. Preference is given to the one ranking above, wherein if there is even one member available in the higher (preceding) category then all of the property shall pass to the members in that category and none to the ones coming after that (succeeding).

However if there is no one available in the higher (preceding) category then it shall pass to the members following next in the category (succeeding).

Intestate-Succession

Referring to the chart given above you will see that in case of a married male, the father is ranked above the category of- grandchildren, brother & sister.

Here assuming that no one is available from the class I category that is the mother, wife and children, the rights shall pass to the ones in class II. Wherein, since the father is ranking first, he shall be entitled to 100% property.

But in case he is not alive then it shall cumulatively pass to the next category, i.e. the grand children, brother and sister. Here all the three of them shall share the property equally, i.e. 1/3 each.

If by chance neither class I nor class II heirs are available, then it shall first pass on to the agnates and then cognates. To understand about agnates and cognates, you can refer this article – Order of Succession in case of agnates and Cognates.

Succession in case of Death of a Female

After the amendment of the Act in 2005, females have been given equal rights of inheritance as that of a male. However the distribution of her property is different from a male.

A lady is the absolute owner of her property whether self-acquired or inherited. Any property whether movable or immovable earned or inherited by her will be considered, either before, during or after the marriage, even before the commencement of the Act is her ‘Stridhana’.

A lady who dies intestate, i.e. without leaving a will, her assets will be distributed according the Hindu Succession Act.

According to the Act, the first right on her assets will be of her husband, son and daughter, including the grand children but only in case the children are not alive.

If she is unmarried then the right devolves upon her parents.

Intestate-Death

In the absence of above people:

In the absence of the above mentioned people, unlike the male succession rules, where the heirs were divided into two classes of heirs, here there are no classes. Although there is a hierarchy that defines the order in which the assets shall be distributed. The one ranking first in the order will be preferred over the one coming later in the rank. And only in the absence of the higher rank shall it pass to the next in order.

However, there is a difference in distribution of the property with respect to the manner in which the property is acquired.

The property can be acquired in three ways- Self acquired, inherited from parents and inherited from husband or father-in-law. There is a slight difference in the distribution of the three.

Intestate-female

Referring to the chart above,

Self-acquired:

In the first case, where the property is self-acquired, if the girl is married and the children and husband are also not alive, in that case, the property shall be distributed according to the chart where the first right is of that of the heirs of the husband and so on.

But if she is unmarried, in that case also, we follow the above chart and skip the one applicable for a married woman i.e. husband. Therefore for an unmarried girl, it is the parents- both mother and father who will share the assets equally. And in the absence of the parents, the one next in order i.e. the heirs of the father will be entitled to her property and so on.

Inherited from the parents:

Now coming to next-  inheritance from parents. Here, even if the girl is married, in the absence of children and husband, the right of the property will not vest in the heirs of the husband. Property acquired by way of inheritance from the parents will only be passed to the heirs of the father and so on. Same goes if the girl is unmarried, because by default there are no children and husband.

Inherited from the father-in-law:

Just like inheritance from parents, in case of inheritance from father-in-law or husband, which is applicable only in case of a married lady, the property shall be passed only to the heirs of the husband, in case the husband and children are not available. It will not be passed to the parents of the girl even if they belong to the hierarchy.

General Provision- Applicable to all

  • Right of child in womb:

An unborn child has the same rights as that of a born one. So in case of division of property, in case of a pregnant widow, her unborn child will be treated as a separate entity and both of them will have equal rights in the share of the property of the deceased.

  • Relinquishment of right:

If a person doesn’t want his right in the property, he/she can relinquish i.e. leave her right in the property.

  • Hindu at the time of succession:

If a person converts his/her religion to any other religion, then he/she and their children will cease to be a legal heir of their Hindu relatives and will be disqualified from inheritance. However if they are Hindu when the succession opens, then they will become qualified again.

  • Murderer Disqualified:

If a person is found guilty of murdering another person or being a party to the murder, then he/she shall be disqualified to be a legal heir of such person.

  • Specific disqualification:

If someone has been disqualified specifically from inheriting the property then he/she shall cease to be a legal heir.

  • Disease, defect etc.

No person shall be disqualified from being a legal heir on account of a disease, defect or deformity.

  • Absence of heir:

In case of absence of any heir whatsoever, the right in property shall be passed on to the government.

  • Widow re-marriage:

If the widow of the deceased re-marries she will not lose her right as an heir to the assets of the deceased.

However, if the widow of the son or the brother re-marries at the time of succession, she will lose her right to succession in the property of the deceased.

Karan is CA by Qualification with the rare distinction of being awarded All India Rank 22. He is also the founder of this website and loves to help people with their Tax Queries.