17 June, 2022
We’ve all heard it – children attributing talents, temperament, mannerisms and physical features to their fathers. While reading this, many of you might even be led to think about all the things you have inherited from your father. That’s how we have been created. But inheritances are not just limited to facial, physical and behavioral legacy. The one we want to draw your attention to, on the occasion of Father’s Day, is legal legacy, or legal inheritance.
The Indian Constitution guarantees gender equality before the law. Article 15 prevents the state from discriminating against any citizen of India or violating their equal rights on the basis of race, caste, religion, class, or sex etc. This equality cannot be achieved if women and girls are not economically independent. The right to inheritance is an important agency that empowers women and girls to secure this independence.
India does not have any uniform law regarding property ownership and inheritance rights of women, which means the law in matters pertaining to inheritance and sharing of property differs for people from different faiths.
Equal property rights of sons and daughters were recognised after the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which stated that a daughter will have equal ownership in her father’s property even after she gets married. Prior to the amendment, daughters could only be ‘members’, not ‘coparceners’ (individuals who have a legal right to their ancestral property by birth). While coparceners could ask for partition and share of the property, members couldn’t. Once the daughter gets married, she stops being a member and therefore she loses her right to the share and maintenance of her father’s property.
- In 2018, the Supreme Court made it clear that the law applies to any daughter, irrespective of whether they were born before or after the coming of the law and thus will be entitled to share in the father’s property
- In 2020, the Supreme Court decision on property rights of daughters confirmed that sons, as well as daughters, indeed have exactly the same rights in the Joint Family Property. The inheritance rights of the daughter do not change upon her marriage, the death of her husband, the death of her father, or anything else for that matter. Hence, the case used what has now become a famous expression: "Once a daughter, always a daughter."
- In another significant verdict, the Supreme Court in January, 2022, said the daughters of a Hindu male who dies without a will or intestate will inherit the property of the father. In such cases, the daughters will be given priority over other family members like sons and daughters of the father's siblings
In many families across the country, strong patriarchal traditions have translated into fear of violence by their male relatives, preventing women from fighting for their inheritance rights. It has been 18 years since the amendment of The Hindu Succession Act (2005), but a lot of women, even educated ones, are in the dark about their inheritance rights.
Here are 3 things every father/parent can do now to safeguard their daughter’s inheritance:
- Stay informed on the different laws that apply to you as per your faith or custom
- Draft a will. It is the best way to pass on assets. While nominations help in transferring movable assets like bank deposits or insurance policies, a will takes legal precedence over a nomination. Get a probate, if required, as it’s needed in some states
- Talk to your daughter, as well as many others, about their inheritance rights. Spreading awareness about these rights is extremely important
ADF India’s Vanishing Girls campaign is calling for proactive efforts by the Centre and state governments to enforce every daughter’s right to inheritance. Let’s move towards a future where daughters can freely claim their legal inheritance just as they claim other inheritances from you.