To answer this question, it is very important to understand how a Hindu woman’s property devolves according to the Hindu Succession Laws if she dies without leaving a Will.
As per the Hindu Succession Act, the term ‘property’ of a Hindu female includes both movable and immovable properties owned and acquired by her through inheritance, or on partition, or by gift, or by purchase, or earned.
In the case of a Hindu female, her property will be equally divided among her husband, sons and daughters (including the children of any predeceased son or daughter). If her husband and/or children are alive, the law does not differentiate between the inherited and the self-acquired property of a Hindu female.
In the absence of husband and children, however, (if predeceased through unfortunate circumstances), a Hindu female’s property falls into three categories: (i) property inherited from her parents, (ii) property inherited from her husband or father-in-law and (iii) self-earned property. The law in this regard prescribes that property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to her husband’s heirs; property inherited from her father or mother would go to her father’s heirs.
It is interesting to note that self-earned property of a Hindu female, even if husband and children are pre-deceased, will be inherited by her husband’s heirs, in this case, her mother-in-law. If her mother-in-law is no more, the assets will go to her father-in-law. In his absence, too, it would devolve on her husband’s siblings. Only when none of her in-laws are alive, would her assets go to her own parents.
Take for example a situation such as this: A married woman who is not staying with her husband and has applied for divorce. If she passes away during the divorce process, her property would go to her husband since, in the eyes of the relevant law, she is still married to him.
Another case: A widow who, on her husband’s demise, was ill-treated by her in-laws and lived with her parents, while still earning, Even her self-earned property (assets) will be passed on, on her demise without a Will (that is, intestate), to the heirs of the husband, her in-laws according to the Hindu Succession Act. Nothing, in this case, would go to her parents, who had supported her in her time of need.
Looking at the above rules of the Hindu Succession Laws, it is amply clear that even though the women may have been progressive and on par with men, the Hindu Succession Laws are biased toward her husband’s family. Thus, no matter how unfair or unreasonable it may sound, the above outcomes are according to rules laid down by the Hindu Succession Act, which might not be consonant with the wishes of most married women.
The best part about making a Will is that only the woman gets to choose who will enjoy the benefit of her assets after her demise. Even more important, a Will ensures that the property (moveable and immoveable) does not fall into undeserving hands.
Thus, husband or no husband, children or no children, every woman should necessarily make a Will—well in time. No one knows when one’s time will come. In the matter of making a Will, the earlier, the better. This is to ensure that she, and SHE alone, decides who would inherit her property, and that her wealth goes only to those who deserve it.
(The author, Raghvendra Nath, is Managing Director, Ladderup Wealth Management. The views are his own).