Daughters have equal inheritance rights in property – Once a daughter, Always a daughter.

Supreme Court judgment on Vineeta Sharma Vs. Rakesh Sharma Civil appeal no. 32601 of 2018 decided on August 11, 2020

The Honorable Supreme Court of India’s recent landmark judgment has opened doors for Hindu women by upholding women’s inheritance rights in property (ancestral), under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act 2005, with retrospective effect.

Now daughters will have equal rights over ancestral property and her share in it would accrue by birth. Even if the daughter is not alive, her children can claim their rightful portion. A daughter’s marital status makes no difference to her right.

This judgment has brought to the forefront women’s inheritance rights in property. Women lose out on these rights due to poor awareness and strong traditional compulsions. In some states, women have give up their claims over ancestral property following the custom of voluntary renunciation.

Let’s try and understand what these rights are.

Types of property (movable or immovable) that can be inherited

Properties are of two types:

Ancestral Property: This is the property inherited by the deceased through 3 generations or more.

Self Acquired Property: This shall include the property the deceased had purchased or acquired on his own.

How can a woman inherit property?

Women’s inheritance rights in property are generally governed by what religion she follows, her marital status, and which part of the country she belongs to.

She can inherit property through a valid and enforceable Will in her name.

However, if there is no Will (intestate succession), the distribution of property is based on personal laws applicable to the deceased. So in case of an inter-caste marriage, the wife is entitled to inheritance as per the personal laws applicable to the religion of her husband.

Women’s inheritance rights in property

Rights of a Hindu woman

  • The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governs the intestate succession (where there is no will) and inheritance of property and is applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains.
  • A married Hindu daughter also has right of residence in her father’s house if she is deserted, divorced, or widowed.
  • In case of the father’s self-acquired or separate property, the daughter will have equal rights with her mother/ sister/ brother.
  • A wife is entitled to an equal share of her husband’s properties with other surviving entitled heirs. If there is no other heir, she has full right to inherit the entire property.
  • A mother is entitled to receive an equal share of property of her son like other surviving entitled sharers.
  • A widowed mother is entitled to maintenance from her children who are not dependents.

Rights of a Christian / Parsi / Jew woman

  • The Indian Succession Act 1925 deals with inheritance for intestate succession for these religions and there is no gender bias. Women generally have the same rights as men do.

Rights of a Muslim woman

  • The succession right for Muslim women is the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. Women do not have the same rights as men and tend to have a lesser share on the property.
  • When a man dies, both male and female heirs become legal heirs, but the share of a female heir is typically half of that of male heirs. While two-thirds share of the property devolves equally among legal heirs, one-third can be given as per his own wish.
What should you do if your inheritance rights in property are denied?
  • Attempt amicable settlement.
  • If unsuccessful, send a legal notice to the party denying your rights.
  • If there is no response, you can file a suit in a civil court claiming your share.

Inheritance rights in property for women may not be equitable for all as they are religion-based. However, being aware of your rights is the first step towards financial empowerment.