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Expert Explains: Hindu Women's Right To Property In India - Married, Unmarried, Widowed, First And Second Wife

There are many relationships a woman enters into throughout her life. But in these relationships, what is her claim on finances, on inheritance and property? Can she be an heir to inherit property? What does the law say about women's right to property in India? For married, unmarried, widowed women, first wife or second wife, etc. Boldsky attempted to find answers to these questions and more. Let us begin by exploring the laws one at a time.

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Can a married daughter inherit her father's property?

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 was enacted by the Parliament of India to codify succession laws among Hindu, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Under this act daughters had a right to their father's property even if they were married and were a part of their husband's family. Earlier, they could not inherit their father's property because they were considered to have rights in another Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). The act of 1956 was amended again in 2005 to remove some gender discriminatory provisions. Now, daughters by birth became coparceners in their own right, in the same way as sons, and were entitled to ask for the partition of their dwelling house.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India reiterated that daughters have the right to inherit their parents' self-acquired property and any other property of which they are absolute owners. According to the Supreme Court, a daughter gets an equal right along with the sons on the father's ancestral property. A deceased man's property will be divided among his legal heirs based on property laws that determine the rights of those heirs. When there are multiple legal heirs, a daughter's share in the property will be the same as her brother's.

What are the property rights of a first wife?

If a Hindu man leaves his wife without a divorce and remarries, his first wife and their children remain his lawful heirs as the marriage has not been annulled under law. But, if the man and his wife are legally divorced, the first wife cannot claim a share in the property of her former husband. If a divorced couple have invested in a joint property, it is important to have documented proof of the percentage of monetary contribution of each in case of a divorce. This is important especially in cases were an eviction suit needs to be filed.

However, in cases of domestic violence, the woman has a right to residence under the Protection of Women From Domestic Abuse Act of 2005. This means that she cannot be thrown out of the family home, even if she is not a co-owner of the house.

What are the property rights of a second wife?

A second wife has all the legal rights on her husband's property, provided her husband's first wife has passed away or is legally divorced before the husband married her. Her children have equal rights on their father's share, same as the children born of the man's first marriage. In case the second marriage is not legal, neither the second wife nor her children are legal heirs in the ancestral property of the husband.

What are the property rights and inheritance of a widow?

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, establishes that a deceased person's property will be distributed among his legal heirs in the list of Class-I heirs, if he dies without a will. Class-I heirs of the deceased includes, among many other heirs, his widow, his children and his mother. If a person dies without leaving a will, and his widow is his only surviving heir, she will inherit his entire property. If there are other surviving Class-I heirs, his widow gets one share of his property like any other Class-I heir. For example, on the death of an intestate man with a surviving wife and two children, they each get one-third share of his property.

What are women's co-ownership rights in husband's ancestral property?

In many Indian states, men sometimes migrate to cities for work and leave their families at the village. In such a situation, women should have economic independence. In Uttarakhand, a state where a lot of men migrate for work, the state government has brought in an ordinance, to give co-ownership rights in the husband's ancestral property to women.

But times are a changing. There are many couples in India today who are in a committed relationship but are not legally married. Has the law been able to keep up with the changing times? What does it say about the property and inheritance rights of live-in couples?

What are the inheritance and property rights of live-in couples and their children?

No religion in India accepts live-in relationships as legal, but in 2005, the Supreme Court of India categorised live-in relationships as relationships "in the nature of marriage". Taking into account the changing times, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was enacted in 2005. It protects various rights including right to residence and rights against economic abuse of not only the wife but also of women in live-in relationships as well as other female members. However, the court does not consider "walk-in and walk-out" relationships as live-in relationships. Under the Criminal Procedure Code Section 125, women in live-in relationships are eligible for maintenance.

Children born to a live-in couple have the same right of inheritance as a legal heir on the property of their parents. They are entitled to parents' self-acquired property, but they do not have any right on the property of any other relation. The inheritance rights of illegitimate children are governed by Section 16 (3) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which states that 'such children are only entitled to the property of their parents and not of any other relation'.

What are the rights of an unwed mother and child?

There is no clear rule regarding how an unwed couple with children would be given their due in case there is a custodial fight between both (unwed) parents. Illegitimate children have rights to parents' self-acquired property under Section 16 (3) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

Laws are fluid and they are a reflection of the changes in society. Though a lot has been done to bring women's property rights on the same footing as that of men, a lot still needs to be done.

Disclaimer: This article is the second of two on the property laws and inheritance rights of women in India. Read our previous article on the diverse nature of right to property in India here. This article focusses on the rights of Hindu women in different family set-ups in India. Please note, this is not legal advice but simplified information. Please consult your lawyer for the exact laws in your situation and area.

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