Practicing any religion is a fundamental right in the constitution. However, there is no uniform code or specific law that governs the idea of inheritance of property in the nation. The general laws relating to inheritance can be directed to The Indian Succession Act, 1925, applicable to all Indian citizens, the exceptions being Hindu, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. It is the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 that governs non-testamentary or intestate inheritance for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists; For Muslims, for non-testamentary succession The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 is applied, but where a person dies testate, it is also governed by The Indian Succession Act. Parsis and Christians also follow the general act and inter-faith marriages follow the Special Marriage Act, 1954. In case of a foreign citizen who inherits property from an Indian, the respective law of the latter’s region will apply in that case.
It is important to follow due procedure while claiming one’s inheritance in India, and a few important things need to be kept in mind, such as:
- Before making any claim to the property, all debts pertaining to the said property need to be cleared.
- If there is ambiguity in the Will, such as mentioning of excess property etc, legal advice must be sought immediately.
- The first legal step should be to get hold of the testator’s will, which can be done by applying with the deceased’s death certificate to the District Registrar.
- Once the legal ownership of an heir for a property is confirmed, it is advised to apply for mutation to the local municipal authority, which makes the ownership claims stronger.
- A no-objection certificate needs to be acquired in case there are multiple heirs.
- A will may also be challenged on the grounds that a person has been left out of the will due to whatever reason, and so the words of the will are not absolute in law.
A Hindu male dying intestate would cause his property to be divided equally amongst the Class 1 heirs which include his sons, daughters, widow, mother and specified heirs of predeceased sons or daughters. Even under the Indian Succession Act, if a person dies intestate and has only one surviving child or more children, the all the property would belong to the one surviving child, or will be divided equally amongst all the children. There is no concept of ancestral rights in Islamic Law. It recognizes that even though a person has left behind a will (unless it is ratified by all the heirs) it will be valid only to the extent of 1/3rd of the value of the property in question.
NRI’s may also inherit any property in India, and need to get a succession certificate made from the court in case there is no will present which would require documents such as death certificate of deceased etc.