How a recent Supreme Court ruling extends the legal rights of a daughter to her father’s property

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By Fiona Mehta

 

In the matter of Arunachala Gounder, the Supreme Court Judgment dated 20th January 2022 has whipped up a lot of interest and intrigue – more so among the general population than the legal community. The Judgment delivered by a Bench of Hon’ble Justice Abdul Nazeer and Hon’ble Justice Krishna Murari delves into the realms of a daughter’s rights on her father’s self-acquired property or his share in partitioned coparcenary/family property.

 

What was the issue?

The most recent Supreme Court decision addresses a daughter’s legal entitlement to inherit her father’s “self-acquired” property in the absence of any other legal successor with inheritable rights. This implies the Hon’ble Court decided whether the property’s lawful heir would be the daughter by ‘inheritance’ or her father’s brother’s son through survivorship. One important fact is that the Judgment deals with a scenario before the commencement of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

 

What the Supreme Court has said:

The Honorable Court stated unequivocally that a self-acquired property or a share received in a partition of a coparcenary property by a Hindu male who died intestate (without leaving behind a legally valid Will) will devolve (i.e. be transferred) by “inheritance” rather than “survivorship,” implying that the daughter of a Hindu male will be entitled to such property before any other collaterals.

In the present case – The Hindu male died intestate. He was living in a joint family. However, the property in question was his ‘self-acquired’ property and therefore, his sole surviving daughter had all the rights to inherit his property and not his brother’s son (through survivorship).

 

Who inherits the property after the death of the daughter of the Hindu male who died intestate?

The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 solidified inheritance among all Hindus (irrespective of school of philosophy). A Hindu female’s property (including property gained by inheritance) is her absolute property, according to Section 14 of the aforementioned Act. As a result, the misunderstanding caused by some old conventions that a Hindu girl could only enjoy the inherited property throughout her ‘lifetime’ was also dispelled.

The succession of such properties (owned by Hindu females) in absence of a Will/testament is governed by Section 15 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 and in terms of the ‘order of succession’ as provided for in Section 16 of the same Act.

 

Legal heirs of Hindu female who dies without a valid will:

When a Hindu female dies intestate, her self-acquired property will devolve in terms of Section 15(1), firstly by her class-I legal heirs viz. the children and the husband, if alive.

However, when a Hindu female dies intestate leaving behind inherited property, then as per Section 15 (2), if she dies issueless viz. without any children, then the property inherited from her father or mother will go to the heirs of her father. Similarly, property inherited from her husband or father-in-law will go to the heirs of the husband. The Supreme Court in the present Judgment has affirmed the sanctity of this provision by stating that the intent of the Legislature in carving out the ex ..

 

Supreme Court Decision:

The recent Supreme Court pronouncement clarifies the inheritance laws as applicable to a Hindu female as follows:

(a) The Hindu daughter inherits the self-acquired property of her father

(b) The rule of ‘inheritance’ prevails and not the rule of ‘survivorship’.

(c) The Hindu female has an ‘absolute’ right in such property (in terms of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956) and not a limited ‘lifetime’ interest.

(d) Such property can revert to the ‘source’ only when the Hindu female dies without leaving behind a child.

(e) In absence of a Will/Testament, such property devolves upon her legal heirs as per the terms of Section 15 and 16 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

 

The Hon’ble Court has answered all the unanswered questions and redefined the law. While there could be a minuscule percentage of such cases, they would not drag on for many years, because the law has been clearly laid, leaving no room for any conundrum.

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