Heir refers to a person who receives property from an ancestor or who is entitled to inherit property. In India, The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governs acts related to succession and inheritance. In this study, the various provisions and rules related to the inheritance of the property of a male estate have been explained. The various categories or classes of heirs have also been assessed.
Succession has not been defined in any Indian statute. In ordinary words, Succession means the order or the conditions under which one person succeeds another to a property, dignity, title, or throne. Though inheritance is deemed to have the same meaning as succession, there exists a fundamental difference between the two words. Inheritance refers to the money or property which is received from someone who has died. Therefore, inheritance is a subset of succession.
In India, The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as the Act) deals with laws related to succession and inheritance of the majority. It came into force on 17th June 1956 with the primary purpose of amending, codifying and consolidating the law relating to intestate succession among Hindus. It applies to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists as well as converts and reconverts of the aforementioned religions. The act is not applicable to the members of any Scheduled Tribe within the meaning of clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India unless the Central Government directs to the contrary. It is mainly divided into two schools, namely, the Dayabhaga school and the Mitakshara school. The Mitakshara school still follows the dual-mode of devolution and doctrine of Survivorship.
The Act was amended in 2005 by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 (hereinafter referred to as the amendment). It was mainly aimed at removing the inequalities between men and women concerning coparcenary properties. The said amendment restructured the provisions of Section 6, which resulted in the recognition of the rights of women to inherit property.
Heirs of a Male Intestate
Under the Act, male intestate succession is mainly dealt under Section 8 to Section 13. Section 8 is mainly responsible for the governance of inheritance under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. All the heirs of the property of a male intestate are divided into four categories primarily based on factors such as consanguinity and propinquity. Factors such as love, affection, proximity are treated as secondary. The general rules of succession are mentioned in Section 8 of the Act. It states that “The property of a male Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the provisions of this Chapter—
- (a) firstly, upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class I of the Schedule;
- (b) secondly, if there is no heir of class I, then upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class II of the Schedule;
- (c) thirdly, if there is no heir of any of the two classes, then upon the agnates of the deceased; and
- (d) lastly, if there is no agnate, then upon the cognates of the deceased.”
Therefore, if a male Hindu dies intestate after the commencement of the Act his property shall devolve firstly upon his heirs specified in Class I of the Schedule and if there is no Class I heir, then upon the relatives specified in Class II of the Schedule and if there are no heirs of even Class II, then upon the agnates and if the agnates are also not available then upon the cognates. The term agnate means a person related by descent from a common male ancestor. The term cognate refers to people who are related by family or have the same ancestor. In other words, one person is said to be a cognate of another if the two are related by blood or adoption but not wholly through males. It should be noted that the act does not restrict the perquisites of this section to the close kin of the deceased. Therefore, any distant relative can claim his fair share of the property, if he is able to prove his relationship with the deceased.
Class I heirs
The Class I heirs includes the closest kith and kin of the deceased. The following are Class I heirs according to the Act:
- Son of a pre-deceased son
- Daughter of a pre-deceased son
- Son of a pre-deceased Daughter
- Daughter of a pre-deceased Daughter
- Widow of a pre-deceased son
- Son of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son
- Daughter of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son
- Widow of a pre-deceased son of a predeceased son
- Son of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased daughter (Added by the amendment)
- Daughter of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased daughter (Added by the amendment)
- Daughter of a predeceased son of a predeceased daughter (Added by the amendment)
- Daughter of a predeceased daughter of a predeceased son. (Added by the amendment)
Rules related to Class I heirs
The intestate’s widow, or if there is more than one widow, all the widows together, take an equal share in the property of the deceased. The surviving sons and daughters and the mother of the intestate each take an equal share in the property of the deceased. The heirs in the branch of each pre-deceased son or each pre-deceased daughter of the intestate take an equal share: provided that the distribution of the share among the heirs of pre-deceased son are made in a manner that his widow (or widows together) and the surviving sons and daughters get equal portions, and the branch of his predeceased sons gets the same portion and the distribution of the share among the heirs of a pre-deceased daughter are made in a manner that the surviving sons and daughters get equal portions. The references to a brother or sister in the aforementioned Class do not include references to a brother or sister by uterine blood.
Class II heirs
The Class II heirs are considered only when there are no Class I heirs. Among the heirs specified in Class II, those who are mentioned first get the property simultaneously and in exclusion to those in the subsequent entries. The following are Class II heirs according to the Act:
- (1) Son’s daughter’s son
(2) Son’s daughter’s daughter
- (1) Daughter’s son’s son
(2) Daughter’s son’s daughter
(3) Daughter’s daughter’s son
(4) Daughter’s daughter’s daughter.
- (1) Brother’s son
(2) Sister’s son
(3) Brother’s daughter
(4) 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.
Agnates and Cognates
As mentioned above, one person is said to be an “agnate” of another if the two are related by blood or adoption wholly through males. Cognate is a person related to another by blood or adoption but not wholly through males. For determining the order of succession among agnates or cognates relationship is assessed on the basis of degrees of ascent or degrees of descent or both.
Rules relating to Agnates and Cognates
The order of succession among agnates or cognates is determined by the following rules. Firstly, Of two heirs, the one who has fewer or no degrees of ascent is preferred; secondly, Where the number of degrees of ascent is the same or none, that heir is preferred who has fewer or no degrees of descent; thirdly and lastly, Where neither heir is entitled to be preferred to the other under the aforementioned rules they both take the shares equally.
The researcher has reached the conclusion the conclusion that any person closely or distinctively related to a deceased has the right to inherit his property. The researcher also discovered that if the deceased has no heirs under any of the classes, then the property shall be inherited by the government.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who is included under Hindus in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956?
- Mention the relationships included under Class I and Class II of heirs in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956?
- What is meant by agnates and cognates?
 Heir definition and meaning: Collins English Dictionary Heir definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/heir (last visited Jul 27, 2020)
 Succession Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/succession (last visited Jul 25, 2020)
 Inheritance definition and meaning: Collins English Dictionary Inheritance definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/inheritance (last visited Jul 25, 2020)
 Derrett, J.D.M., 1959. The Hindu succession act, 1956: An experiment in social legislation. Am. J. Comp. L., 8, p.485.
 Succession issues: The legal process and components Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com/business/succession-issues-the-legal-process-and-components/story-opaT0fBRRGlA3CFZIfKcBL.html (last visited Jul 25, 2020)
 Surajmani Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah, AIR 2001 SC 938.
 Bhagwat Prasad Bhagat Vs. Shankar Bhagat and Ors., 2011(1) PLJR429
 Agnate definition and meaning: Collins English Dictionary Agnate definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/agnate (last visited Jul 26, 2020)
 Cognate definition and meaning: Collins English Dictionary Cognate definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/cognate (last visited Jul 26, 2020)
 The Schedule, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Section 10, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Supra note 10.
 Section 10(1), Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Section 10(2), Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Explanation to The Schedule, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 The Schedule, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Section 3(1) (a), Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Supra note 8
 Section 12, Hindu Succession Act, 1956
 Supra note 19