Monday, February 1, 2016

Equality in Inheritance

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 ("The Succession Act") is a personal law that was enacted in the year 1956 to consolidate the customs and laws around the succession of the property of a Hindu Family, especially in cases where the eldest family member dies without leaving a will.

The family system in India has primarily been a joint family system wherein all the members of the family usually share the wealth of the family. The  pushtaaini property is known as coparcenary property and the same is minded by the "Karta" of the Hindu Family, better knows as the Patriarchal Head of the family. The entire family unit is like a company where the family members are like the board of directors and the eldest patriarch is the Managing Director. For the uninitiated, the company also has a title and can be registered as a HUF e.g: A ABC HUF (meaning a ABC Hindu Undivided Family). This HUF has its own identity and also has its own PAN Card. It can make investments also. And if any thing goes wrong, or some one needs to be implicated it is the Karta of the HUF. And once the Karta dies, the family has a choice to either continue with the HUF or dissolve the same, after each one of them gets their inheritance rights from this HUF. This inheritance of the coparcenary property is governed by the Hindu Succession Act, wherein it states that unless it has been agreed otherwise between the HUF members, the property will be divided as per the schedule that is in the Succession Act. That schedule is quite complicated and I am absolutely not going to say anything about that here.

In the above background here are some facts.
It was in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, where the rights of the daughter were curtailed, and a daughter would not be considered as a part of the inheritance as per the rules of succession and a married daughter had very little to no right in the coparcenary property. [Trust me this was super complicated, and I made it super easy].

But in the year 2005, this complicated Hindu Succession Act, was uncomplicated and amended to state that the daughters (whether married or not) had an equal right in the coparcenary property of a Hindu Family. Which simply means that if the father dies leaving behind a coparcenary property and he is survived by his widow, one son and one daughter, then each of them will get an equal share in the property. [Please note that here the assumption is that there are no other relatives involved in the same].

This was about the property and the inheritance. However, just by giving the daughter a seat on the board was like having a silent partner, and the patriarchal fabric of the hindu family still existed in the society. There was always a question hanging in the air about the real position of the daughter in her own family.
It is considered that once the daughter has been married she belongs to the other family. One fails to understand why can't the daughters have the privilege of being there for both her families?

Therefore in what can be called as a Landmark Judgment, the Delhi High Court in a matter has finally clarified the Law and has stated that there is no bar on a daughter from being a Karta of the family and if the daughter is eldest in an HUF then she has the right to not only manage the estate of the HUF but also the rituals of the joint family (which means that the daughter has the right to perform all the religious duties that earlier only a son was allowed to do).

This is a superb judgment and a giant leap towards the closing of the gap between the gender inequality.


Unknown said...

While all of this sounds great, I still don't understand one thing. In the event of the Karta's demise without a will, why is the property divided equally between the widow and the children, instead of all of it passing on to the widow? Personally, I feel the children would have any rights in the property only after the demise of both the parents.

But then again, there is this issue of if the widow marries again. In that case, who does the property belong to? I think that's the only con I can see in the proposal I suggested.

Sakshi said...

Like I have mentioned, this is like a super easy version of the inheritance chart as per the succession act.

The widow, daughter and son are classified as Class I heirs, and the act says that all the coparcernary property be divided equally among the class I heirs. However, if there is personal property (the property that is self acquired by the late karta and has no bearing on the ancestral property) that can be willed by the karta as per his own wishes and the rights in that property may completely be given to the widow.

I think that the idea behind not devolving the coparcenary property completely upon the widow is because the coparcenary property belongs to the HUF in totality. In the example given here, the assumption is that the HUF has only 4 members. Usually there are many more (like grandfather survived by father + fathers 2 brothers +2 sisters followed by their families etc), therefore, an equality to that measure acts as a safe guard against family feuds.