Succession, in the literal sense, means a series or a set of things that follow each other. When talked about in legal terms and property, this, however, refers to the passing of property rights from one to another. This passing of rights can be done through a will. But when a person dies without a will, the person is said to have died intestate, and the personal laws governing the distribution of property for that person come into effect. For Hindus, the applicable act is the Hindu Succession Act. For Muslims, it is Muslim Law, and for Christians, it is the Indian Succession Act that comes into force.
HINDU – MALE SUCCESSION
When a Hindu male dies without leaving behind a will, the assets are given to the legal heirs of the person. These legal heirs have further divided into categories on behalf of their relation to the deceased and the right to inherit, therefore.
The Class I legal heirs include the immediate family – mother, son, daughter and wife. It also includes the son/daughter of predeceased son/ daughter and the widow of the predeceased son. But if they do not exist for the deceased, the class II heirs can claim the property. Members of the family in Class II are arranged in a specified order, and it is expected that the first-named relative on the list will receive the whole inheritance rather than the next. The father is ranked the highest in this category and inherits the whole property. But if he is not alive, grandchildren, brothers and sisters shall have equal parts of the property. After this, there is class III and IV. At first, the ones in line to inherit the property are the relatives only through the male side – called the agnates. If there are no agnates either, the property goes to the cognates – relatives not completely from the male side. In these two classes, the rule of choosing the closest relative is followed.
HINDU – FEMALE SUCCESSION
Like males, a female’s husband, son, daughter, and grandchildren will all be given priority over her assets. If the woman is unmarried, her parents are given this prerogative. The succession for females is not defined by classes but the hierarchy as to who will inherit first exists. However, depending on how it was acquired, the property is allocated differently. Self-acquisition, parent inheritance, and husband- or father-in-law inheritance are allocated in different ways with different precedence orders.
- Self-acquired: For a married woman, her husband and children come in line. In case of their death, the husband’s heirs will inherit the assets. For unmarried women, the mother and father equally divide it.
- Parental Inheritance: In this case, even if the husband and children are no more, the property will pass on to the heirs of the father. This is true even for an unmarried female.
- Inheritance from Husband or Father-In-Law: in the instance of the absence of a husband and children, the property will pass only to the husband’s heirs.
Shias and Sunnis have their own personal laws, which are not formalized in any legislation. Personal law limits inheritances for Sunnis who follow Hanafi Law to a maximum of one-third of the inheritance that is left over after paying for burial costs, unpaid domestic servant payments, and other obligations. The remainder of the inheritance must be divided among the rightful heirs. The sharers are first in line, followed by the residuary. Sharers are entitled o acquire a certain part or share of the property, while residuary are entitled to the rest. It is only when both of them are not there that the distant kindred becomes the successor.
Meher – If the deceased person did not pay the dower that he had pledged while he was alive, that dower would be the first charge to be paid after his death (priority debt).
For Christians, widows/widowers acquire a one-third part, with the remaining assets going to their lineal descendants. If there are no lineal descendants, the widow receives half, and the remaining relatives receive the remainder, or what is known as kindred. Each child or, in the case of a predeceased child, all of his offspring shall get an equal portion amongst lineal descendants. The father is given priority in the kindred, followed equally by the mother, siblings, and brother (or their children, if any of them is deceased).