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A written and a registered Will, is the best and most convenient way for you to pass on your estate to the persons whom you want to. However, very few people take the trouble of writing a will get it registered. Most people die without writing a Will.

Now what happens if a person dies without a will and to whom his/her property will pass on? The Hindu Succession Act 1956 is quite clear about it.

If a Hindu person dies without a will or the will is missing the wealth of the person will be divided on the basis of the “Hindu Succession Act”. The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, is a law that was passed by the parliament of India in 1956 to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or un-willed succession, among Hindus.

The Act was amended in 2005 by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. It is also applicable to Jain’s, Buddhists and Sikhs. The Act also underlines the rules in case if the deceased is a male or female. A child in the womb has same right as a born child.

If the Deceased is a Male

The property of a Hindu male dying intestate, or without a will, would be given first to heirs within Class I. If there are no heirs categorized as Class I, the property will be given to heirs within Class II. If there are no Class I or II heirs, then the property will first go to agnates (distant blood relatives of male lineage) and if no agnates are available then to cognates (distant blood relatives of male or female lineage). And if there are no cognates then the estate will go to government.

Class I Legal Heirs

The following relations are considered to be Class I heirs:

  • Son/Daughter
  • Widow
  • Mother
  • Son/Daughter of a pre- deceased son (per-deceased means “already Dead”)
  • Son/Daughter of a pre- deceased Daughter
  • Widow of a pre- deceased son
  • Son/Daughter of a pre- deceased son of a pre- deceased son (3 levels)
  • Widow of a pre- deceased son of a predeceased son

The widow (or widows), mother and each of the children (son or daughter, the law makes no distinction) take equal shares. Where one or more of such sons or daughters is no more, then, the Class 1 heirs in that branch will all jointly stand in the place left behind by such deceased son or daughter.

Example 1: A person A dies without writing a will. He is survived by wife, son and a daughter. In this case A’s wife, son and daughter come under class 1 heirs. In this case all 3 people being class 1 heirs will get equal share in A’s wealth.

Example 2: A person B dies without writing a will. He is survived by following in the family: wife, son and 2 children of his dead daughter. In this case there are 3 units: 1 his wife, 1 his son and 1 the children of his deceased daughter.  His wife will get 1/3rd share, his son will get 1/3rd share and remaining 1/3rd share will be divided among st the 2 children of his deceased daughter.

Example 3: A person C dies without writing a will. His wife is already dead. He is survived by 2 sons and 2 daughters. All of them are married. In this case the wealth will be equally divided between his 2 sons and his 2 daughters. Each one will get 1/4th share in the wealth.

Class II Legal Heirs

In case no Class-I heirs are available, Class-II heirs, are considered. 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. For example, if the father is no longer live, then the second in list such as “(1) Son’s daughter’s son (2) son’s daughter’s daughter, (3) brother,(4) sister” will get the property in equal measure, provided all the heirs are available. However, whoever is alive will get the property in equal proportion.

(i) Father

(ii) (1) Son’s daughter’s son (2) son’s daughter’s daughter, (3) brother,(4) sister.

(iii) (1) Daughter’s son’s son, (2) daughter’s son’s daughter , (3) daughter’s daughter’s son, (4) daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

(iv) (1) Brother’s son (2) Sister’s son, (3) brother’s daughter (4) Sister’s daughter.

(v) Father’s father. Father’s mother.

(vi) Father’s widow, brother’s widow.

(vii) Father’s brother, father’s sister.

(viii) Mother’s father, mother’s sister.

(ix) Mother’s brother, mother’s sister.

If the Deceased is a Female

The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the following rules:

(a) firstly, upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre- deceased son or daughter) and the husband;

(b) secondly, upon the heirs of the husband;

(c) thirdly, upon the mother and father;

(d) fourthly, upon the heirs of the father; and

(e) lastly, upon the heirs of the mother.

In case of a Hindu female dying intestate and without any issue or any children or any predeceased children, any property inherited by her from her parents shall not devolve upon her husband or his heirs but revert to her natal family.

Similarly, in case a Hindu female dies intestate and without any issue or any children or any predeceased children, then any property inherited by her from her husband or her father-in-law  devolves upon the heirs of her husband. Thus, property inherited from her husband would not devolve upon her father or his heirs.

Example 4: A widow without any children dies without a WILL. She has 3 properties in her name. 1 acquired from her father through gift, second acquired from her own sources of money and third acquired from her husband through will. The property 1 will go to her father’s legal heirs. The property 2 will go to her husband’s legal heirs and property 3 will also go to her husband’s legal heirs.

Agnates and Cognates 

If there are no heirs in Class II, the property will be given to the deceased’s agnates (a male or female descendant by male links from a common male ancestor) or relatives through male lineage (for example first cousin and there children). If there are no agnates or relatives through the male’s lineage, then the property is given to the cognates (One related by blood or origin with another, especially a person sharing an ancestor with another), or any relative through the lineage of males or females (for example second cousin and their children).

If someone leaves behind neither Class 1, nor Class 2 heirs, nor has any agnates, nor any cognates the entire property lapses to the Government.

Certain Exceptions

  • Any person who commits murder is disqualified from receiving any form of inheritance from the victim.
  • If a relative converts from Hinduism, he or she is still eligible for inheritance. The descendants of that converted relative, however, are disqualified from receiving inheritance from their Hindu relatives, unless they have converted back to Hinduism before the death of the relative.
  • The widow succeeds to the property in equal share along with the sons and daughters of her deceased husband. If she remarries, she does not succeed to the estate of her former husband.


The above discussion is a simple commentary on the Hindu Succession Act.. However, it is always advisable to write a will and get it registered and keep it safe within the knowledge of the next kin alive to avoid any complication for the near and dear ones to whom one wants to pass on the estate.

(The author is Ramalingam.K an MBA (Finance) and certified financial planner. He is the Director & Chief Financial Planner of holistic investment planners (www.holisticinvestment.in) a firm that offers Financial Planning and Wealth Management. He Can be reached at ramalingam@holisticinvestment.in)


Author Bio

Ramalingam is the Founder and Director of Holistic Investment Planners Private Limited (WEBSITE - https://www.holisticinvestment.in/). As the creator and architect of the 3-Dimensional Holistic Investment Approach, he has advised hundreds of clients including affluent business owners, corporate e View Full Profile

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July 2024