Rights of a woman to a property as well as rights of others in her property vary a lot and are influenced by various factors like culture, religion, the social status of the woman and the development level of the society to which she belongs.
A woman may acquire property as:
- Ancestral property
- Received as gift/will
In India, the property rights of women are governed by law enacted by the legislature and personal laws.
A. In the case of Hindu women (Jain, Sikh and Buddhists are included)
The property of a woman devolves as per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The Act deals with intestate succession and not wills.
Hindu woman is an absolute owner of the property acquired by her through inheritance, partition, gift, will, in lieu of maintenance or purchased by her. The ownership gets limited in case the property transfer is subject to some restriction.
Sec 15 of the Act, 1956 provides the list of heirs of Hindu Woman’s property if she dies intestate and section 16 prescribes the order of preference:
- Own children, children of predeceased children, husband – all share equally
- Heirs of the husband (only when heirs in point 1 are absent)
- Parents of Hindu woman (only when heirs in point 1 and 2 are absent)
Two exceptions to this rule are
- If property by a Hindu woman is inherited from her father – in the absence of her children or predeceased children’s children, it goes to the heir of her father and not to the husband.
- If the property is inherited from her husband or father in law – in the absence of her children or predeceased children’s children, it goes to heirs of the husband.
In case of self-acquired property, it is always advisable to make a will in time so that the property is bequeathed to beneficiaries one desires. As per the scheme of the Act, the self-acquired property of a Hindu Woman would go to heirs of the pre-deceased husband in case she dies intestate and has no issues.
After the amendment of 2005 in the 1956 Act, daughters are also coparceners, and they inherit the share in the ancestral property equally as a son and subject to same rights and liabilities as a coparcener. If she dies intestate, her interest devolves as per 1956 Act. She also has a right to make a will of her share.
B. Muslim woman
Under Muslim Law, there is no distinction between self-acquired or ancestral property for inheritance purposes. Inheritance opens only on the death of a person. Before a person dies, no legal heir has any right in the property. Legal heirs in Muslim law are divided into two categories
Sharers get their share first and residuary get what is left.
If A Muslim woman inherited property from any relation i.e. husband, son, father, mother, she becomes the absolute owner of her share and can dispose it. A Muslim woman in inheritance gets half the share of what male heir gets.
If a Muslim woman wants to make a will of her property, she cannot give away more than one-third share of her property, and if her husband is the only heir to her property, she can give two-third of property by will.
A child in the womb of his mother is entitled to inherit if born alive.
C. For others (Christian, Parsi and Jews)
For women of faiths other than Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Muslims, succession whether Testamentary or non-testamentary, is governed by India Succession Act, 1925. Blood relatives of woman inherit even in the presence of husband and husband’s relatives. Inheritance laws under this Act are generally gender just.