A will is a legal document by which a person can express what should be done with their assets when they die. Very few people however prepare their will. When a person dies without a will, it can lead to disputes among family members regarding who will have claim to the assets. The true heirs may also have to spend time and money to claim the assets which are rightfully theirs. In such cases, the assets are passed on according to the succession laws of the religion to which the deceased person belongs.
The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 is applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains for inheritance and succession. Amendments were made to the Act in 2005 to provide equal rights to male and female heirs. Here’s how the assets are distributed as per the act if the person dies intestate.
1) If the deceased person is male
If a male person dies intestate, Class I heirs will have equal rights over the assets. Class I heirs include widow, son/daughter, mother, son/daughter of pre-deceased son, son/daughter of pre-deceased daughter, widow of pre-deceased son, widow of pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son, son/daughter of pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son.
The assets will be distributed among Class II heirs if there are no Class I heirs. Class II heirs include father, brother, sister, son’s daughter’s son/daughter, daughter’s son’s son/daughter, daughter’s daughter’s son/daughter, brother’s son/daughter, sister’s son/daughter, father’s father/mother, father’s widow, brother’s widow, father’s brother/sister, mother’s father/mother, mother’s brother sister.
In case there are no Class I or Class II heirs, the assets can be claimed first by agnates (distant blood relatives of male lineage) and if they are not available either, it will passed on to cognates (distant blood relatives of female lineage). If there are no cognates, the assets will then go to the government.
2) If the deceased person is female
If a female person dies intestate, the assets will be devolved in the following order-
a) First to the sons and daughters (including children of pre-deceased son or daughter) and the husband,
b) Second to the heirs of the husband,
c) Third to the father and mother,
d) Fourth to the heirs of the father and lastly,
e) To the heirs of the mother
If a female dies intestate does not have any children or pre-deceased children, the property inherited by her from her parents will not be passed on to the husband or his heirs but it will revert to her natal family. Similarly, if such female has a property inherited from her husband or father-in-law, it will be passed on to the heirs of the husband.