Synopsis–Women are typically unaware of their legal rights regarding property, let alone know how to access it. Find out about the legal rights of a wife to her spouse’s property if he passes away without any succession planning.
Given the uncertainty of life in the face of Covid-19, it is advisable to write a will if you have assets and want to pass them on to your family members smoothly. However, the urgency and importance of a will and nomination are not fully realised because no one believes it will happen to them.
Especially vulnerable are dependants like children and homemaker spouses, who have stayed away from the entire process of financial transactions and wealth management. Women are typically unaware of their legal rights regarding property, let alone know how to access it. What should they do if their husbands die suddenly without a will? How is his property distributed and does it differ for women of different religions?
1. Assets distributed as per law based on religion
If the husband dies intestate, i.e., without a will, the assets are distributed as per the law based on his religion. For Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, the distribution is governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, and the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. For Muslims, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, is applicable. For Christians, the succession is governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925.
2. In case of Hindu male
If a Hindu man dies intestate, his property will be first distributed to Class I heirs. If there are no Class I heirs, the property will be given to Class II heirs. If there are no Class I or II heirs, the property will go to agnates (distant blood relatives of male lineage), and if there are no agnates, it will go to cognates (distant blood relatives of male or female lineage). If there are no cognates as well, the property will go to the government.
Since the wife is included in Class I heirs, she will have a right to her husband’s property, but it will be shared with her children and mother of the deceased. If the widow remarries, she will not lose her right as an heir to the assets of her deceased husband.
In case of husband’s ancestral property, the wife is entitled to a share from the husband’s share of property, but she has no right to claim partition. She will get her share as Class I legal heir during the partition of the property.
3. For Muslims
Under the Muslim law, a childless widow is entitled to one-fourth of the property of the deceased husband. However, if she has children or grandchildren, she will be entitled to one-eighth of the property. If there is more than one wife, then she gets one-sixteenth share in the property.
4. For Christians
On the death of a Christian male without a will, the wife is entitled to one-third share of the husband’s property, while two-thirds will be shared among children. If there are no children, then the wife will get half the share of the husband’s property, whereas the other half will be distributed among relatives. If, however, there are no children or other relatives, the wife will be entitled to the entire property of the deceased husband.
5. For unmarried couples
Though the Hindu, Muslim and Christian succession laws do not accept live-in relationships, the Supreme Court had ruled in 2015 that partners who have cohabited for an extended period can be considered married. Yet, the inheritance rights of women in such relationships remain sketchy.
How a male’s assets are divided under the Hindu Succession Act after his death
If a Hindu male dies without a will, the father is not his immediate legal heir
Inheritance rights of women in own, husband’s ancestral property, coparcenary property
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The advice in this column is not from a licensed healthcare professional and should not be construed as psychological counselling, therapy or medical advice. ET Wealth and the writer will not be responsible for the outcome of the suggestions made in the column.
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