Time and again do experts and planners remind us all to write and probate our wills early on in
life, and to not wait for the final moment. Regardless, many do just the opposite. More often than
not, women are the ones who miss out on the task, despite having property and other assets in their
names. In most cases, a will ensures that the assets are transferred to the desired beneficiaries,
which may not happen if they die intestate, especially in case of Hindu women. The succession laws
for women vary according to their religion as follows. Here are the laws governing inheritance rules
for Hindu (including sub-categories), Muslim and Christian women.
FOR HINDU WOMEN (SIKH, BUDDHIST, JAIN)
The succession laws for Hindu women follow the Hindu Succession Act, 1925 in case there is a will,
and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 in case the woman dies intestate. While Section 14 defines what
constitutes a woman’s property, Sections 15 & 16 lay down the rules and order of inheritance.
Section 14 does not differentiate between inherited and self-acquired property and includes all the
property obtained through ‘inheritance or devise, or at a partition, or in lieu of maintenance or
arrears of maintenance, or by gift from any person, whether a relative or not, before, at or after
her marriage, or by her own skill or exertion, or by purchase or by prescription, or in any other
manner, and also any such property held by her as streedhan.’
PREFERENCE FOR HEIRS BY LAW
Section 15 lists the successors of a woman’s property. Here, there is a distinction depending on
whether the property is inherited or not. Section 15 (1) deals with ‘general property’, that is,
self-acquired property or that received via gift, will, settlement, prescription, etc. Section 15
(2), on the other hand, deals only with property inherited by a woman from her parents, husband or
In case of general property, under Section 15 (1), it shall go, in order of preference:
• a) Firstly to sons and daughters, including children of any pre-deceased son or daughter, and the
• b) Next, to the heirs of the husband;
• c) Then, to the mother and father;
• d) Next, to the heirs of father; and
• e) Finally, to the heirs of mother.
SELF-ACQUIRED AND INHERITED PROPERTIES
If the property is self-acquired, the husband is predeceased and there are no kids, it will go to
the husband’s heirs, not to her parents, siblings or other relatives. In inherited property, there
is a further distinction based on the source of inheritance. As per Section 15 (2)(a), if the
property is inherited from her parents, it devolves to the father’s heirs in the absence of any
kids. As per Section 15 (2)(b), if the property is inherited from her husband or father-in-law, it
devolves, in the absence of kids, to husband’s heirs.
As per the Indian Succession Act, 1925, the widower gets one-third property and balance is
distributed among lineal descendants. If there are no lineal descendants, only the kindred, the
widower gets half the property and the balance is distributed among kindred. If there is no kindred,
the widower gets the entire property.
Under Muslim Law, both self-acquired and ancestral properties are considered equal and follow akin
rules. Legal heirs are divided into sharers and residuary, with sharers getting the first share and
residuary what is left. If the woman inherits property from any relative, be it husband, son, father
or mother, she is the absolute owner of her share and can dispose of it. If she makes a will, she
cannot give away more than one-third share of her property, and if her husband is the only heir, she
can give two-thirds of the property by will.