Islamic Inheritance Laws

Islamic Inheritance Laws

The Indian laws of inheritance are religion specific and vary for Hindus, Muslims and Christians etc. This article discusses in the law relating to inheritance in India pertaining Muslims.

Laws of Inheritance for Muslims

The law pertaining to inheritance among Muslims has been discussed in this article. The Muslim law pertaining to inheritance is largely uncodified and arises from the customs and usages, derived from the Quran and various other practices being followed since time immemorial.

The laws of inheritance for the Muslims have not been codified and the inheritance is governed by the traditional rules of inheritance, which are derived from the structure set out by the Quran. These traditional rules were in the later times systematised by various schools of law. The right to inherit property arises immediately on the death of the person. As regards the property for inheritance is concerned, the Muslim Law does not distinguish between movable and immovable property or the ancestral and the self-acquired property.

Muslim Sects

The Muslims are divided into the following two major sects:-

  1. Sunnis: the sub-sects of Sunnis are the Hanafis, the Malikis, the Shafeis and the Hanbalis; and
  2. Shias: the sub-sects of Shias are the Athna-Ashrias, the Ismailyas and the Zaidyas.

Each of the sects is guided by its own laws of inheritance, being the Hanafi Law of Inheritance for the Sunnis and the Shia Law of Inheritance for the Shias.


On the death, the estate that remains for distribution to the heirs is that which remains on the payment and satisfaction of the funeral expenses, decedent’s debts, the deferred portion of a wife’s mahr and any bequests made by the decedent. However, the schools of law differ with regard to the order of payment of these expenses and debts. The school of law for the Sunnis limit the bequests to one-third of an estate, which cannot be granted to an heir unless the other heirs permit.

Rules of inheritance for Sunnis

The inheritance in case of Sunnis provide for the following classes of heirs:-

  1. Sharers: the Quran has designated 12 heirs (termed as ‘sharers’) to receive fixed shares of the estate. These heirs comprise of father, mother, husband, wife, grandfather, grandmother, daughter, son’s daughter, full sister, paternal half-sister, maternal half-sister, and maternal half-brother. The shares generally range between 1/8th to 2/3rd;
  2. Residuaries or Agnates i.e. persons wholly related only through males and are known as ‘asaba’. They do not take any fixed share, but receive the residue after the fixed share has been claimed by the sharers;
  3. Distant Kindred i.e. persons who are more distant relatives of the decedent. They inherit only if there are neither sharers nor residuaries; and
  4. Unrelated Successors: Such successors are acknowledged kinsman, universal legatee and the government by escheat. These 3 classes take in the order of priority with the acknowledged kinsman succeeding in the absence of the above relations; if there are no acknowledged kinsman, the estate would go to the universal legatee, and finally in case of none existing, the estate shall devolve upon the Government following the principle of escheat.

Despite of the sharers inheriting at the first place, they generally do not take all of the property / estate and receive their fixed share. The portion that remains is passed on to the Instead, they receive their fixed portions and the rest of the estate is passed to the male Agnates / Residuaries. In case of an existing male counterpart, then certain women sharers receive one-half of the share of their male counterpart instead of the fixed share laid down in the Quran.

The children of the decedent’s son or daughter, who predeceased the decedent, are not allowed to inherit in case there is a son surviving; this implies that a son could inherit the entire estate from his parents, with his orphaned nieces and nephews inheriting nothing. However, there is a difference in the rules with regard to a surviving daughter, depending partly on the fact whether the predeceased child was a son or a daughter and whether the grandchildren are males or females.

The adopted children have been excluded from inheriting from their adoptive families.

The relatives who are nearer in degree to the decedent generally exclude those farther in degree, and those of full blood relationships with the decedent are preferred over those related only through the father.

The Sunni rules limit the residuaries to Agnate males, except when certain female sharers turn into residuaries and receive one-half what their male counterparts receive, although the Jaafari rules view female’s kinship relations at par with those of males and provide that a sole surviving daughter can take the entire estate in the same way as a sole surviving son. The Shiite rules under the Jaafari school treat the off-springs from the mother’s side and the father’s side equally i.e. that half brothers and sisters from either parent would be treated equally. The Hanafi and Hanbali schools of law provide that the women sharers can inherit the remainder estate in the absence of residuaries. As per the Shafi and Maliki rules, women are entitled to their fixed shares and do not inherit the remainder, even if there is no individual to inherit it.

The rules for Sunnis provide that if the amount of share to be given to the sharers exceeds the total estate of the deceased, the shares of certain sharers would be reduced. However, in case the amount to be distributed is less than the total estate and there are no residuaries or distant kindred, the treatment is different for different schools, some stating it to be given to the treasurer and other providing for giving the remainder back to the sharers.

Rules of Inheritance for Shias

Under the Shia sect of Muslims, the heirs are divided into the following two groups:-

  1. Blood relations or heirs by consanguinity. These heirs cover parents, children and other lineal descendants how low so ever; grandparents how high so ever; brothers, sisters and their descendants how low so ever and paternal and maternal uncles and aunts of the deceased and of his parents and grandparents how high so ever and their descendants how low so ever; and
  2. Heirs by marriage.

The distribution is decided on the basis of exclusion with the general principle that the nearer relation excludes the distant relations. There is no category of ‘distant kindred’ under the Shia Law. The actual inheritance will vary on the basis of the presence or absence of other heirs.

Hindu Inheritance Law

Hindu Inheritance Law

The Indian laws of inheritance are privy to the general populace as per their religion. There different laws existing in India for inheritance vary for Hindus, Muslims and Christians etc.

Laws of Inheritance for Hindus

The article discusses in detail the various laws relating to inheritance in India pertaining to the Hindus. The Hindu laws have been codified by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Besides, laying down the rules for inheritance and devolution of the property, the legislation provides for other basic governing principles for the succession among Hindus. The laws governing inheritance in India for the Hindus have been discussed in this article.

The laws of inheritance for Hindus are contained in the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (hereinafter referred to as “HSA”), which is applicable to all Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and to any other person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew. Any person who becomes a Hindu by conversion is also governed under the Act.

General Conditions

The HSA overrides all customs, traditions and usages being followed by Hindus. However The HSA is not applicable to cases of testamentary disposition of property and only applies to cases of intestate death of an individual, i.e. the deceased dies intestate without any testamentary disposition of the property.
A child in womb at the time of death of the intestate, who is subsequently born alive, has been granted the same rights to inherit the property as if the child was born before the death of the intestate. A person who commits the offence of murder or abets the commission shall be disqualified from inheriting the property of the person murdered.

The heirs entitled to the property and the order of preference among them is specified and provided by the HSA. The HSA broadly divides its provisions for inheritance on the basis of gender, i.e. laying down separate rules for both males and females.

Property of the Hindu Undivided Family

With regard to the interest of a Hindu male in the Hindu Undivided Family (hereinafter referred to as “HUF”), the same shall not be governed by the rules of succession provided by the HSA, rather the same shall devolve upon the other surviving members of the HUF. Such interest is not governed by the succession principles in the prescribed order. The head of the family becomes the Karta of the family, who has the authority of handling and maintaining the property for the interest of the family. A specific provision of the HSA contained in Section 30 allows a Hindu to dispose of his interest in the HUF through a will.


The HSA provides for the devolution of the property of an intestate Hindu upon the Government, if there are no heirs qualified to succeed to such property in accordance with the provisions of the HSA. The Government takes charge of the property, for which there are no heirs to inherit in accordance with the provisions of the HSA and in consonance with the rule against perpetuities.

Developments in the Law

The HSA has been amended to strengthen the position of Hindu females in succession. With the amendments brought to the HSA by virtue of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, the daughters by birth become a coparcenor in her own right and shall have the same rights as a son with regard to the coparcenary property and shall also be subject to the same liabilities as a son with respect to the coparcenary property. The amendments made the position of Hindu females stronger as compared to the earlier position and vested inheritance rights on them, which were at par with the Hindu males in multiple respects.

Christian Inheritance Law

Christian Inheritance Law

The Laws governing Inheritance among the Christians in India have been discussed in this article. The Indian Succession Act, 1925 provides for the inheritance laws for all other religions, including Christians.

Christian Inheritance Law in India

Christians have varied laws on succession and familial relations. The rules for succession among the Christians has been codified under the Indian Succession Act, 1925, while on the other hand customary practices also have an influence on the principles of inheritance.

The British Indian Government enacted the Indian Succession Act, 1865 which was to apply in the case of Christians. This Act was later replaced by the Indian Succession Act, 1925 (hereinafter referred to as “ISA”), which currently governs the inheritance in case of Christians. Certain customary practices also influence the principles of inheritance in case of Christians and have also been considered by the courts in India.


All property owned by an individual, irrespective of the mode of acquisition, the) mode of acquisition is treated as the individuals’ self-acquired property and is free to dispose-off the same in any manner during his lifetime. In case the property has not been disposed-off by way of will, then the same shall devolve upon his / her successors and heirs upon his death. Properties or money given by the interstate to a child for his / her advancement in the life would not be considered at the time of distribution of the intestate’s wealth / property.

Descendants & Rules of Inheritance

The laws of inheritance applicable to Christians are same for both genders. The property of a person dying intestate is bequeathed to the spouse of the deceased , or upon those who are kindred of the person deceased. Chapter II of the ISA provides for the order and the concerned rules for the devolution of the estate and the share to be allotted to the heirs. The ISA provides that a widow is not entitled to the property if by a valid contract made before the marriage she has been explicitly excluded from the distributive share of her husband’s estate.

The term ‘lineal descendants’, as described under the ISA, includes children or children’s children and only those born out of a lawful marriage, thereby excluding relations such as daughter’s illegitimate son or a son’s illegitimate daughter or any other illegitimate issue as such illegitimate children are not considered children by the provisions of ISA. If an intestate has left a widow and also lineal descendants, 1/3rd of the estate shall devolve upon the widow and the remaining 2/3rd shall go to the lineal descendants. If the intestate has left behind a widow and does not have any lineal descendants, but has left behind persons who are kindred to him, the property would be divided into halves, one would divulge to the widow of the intestate and the other half would divulge to the kindred. However, in case the intestate has left no kindred, the whole property would be inherited by the widow.

In cases where an intestate has no child, but only has grandchildren and no other remote descendent, the property shall go equally to the all the grandchildren. A husband is not entitled to inherit the property of the divorced wife and in case of judicial separation, the property of the wife would devolve upon her legal heirs as if the husband is already divorced. Also, a daughter-in-law has no right of succession to the estate of her intestate father-in-law. Moreover in case of a Christian daughter, there exist no pre-existing right in the family property and her right generally arises when her parents die intestate.

With regard to the legitimate descendants and legitimate and illegitimate children, the Kerala High Court in the case of Jane Antony, Wife of Antony v. V.M. Siyath, Vellooparambil specifically opined that all illegitimate children, though born out of the wedlock, are children born out to the man and woman who cohabited for some time and are in substance husband and wife for all purposes. Therefore, the court showed no hesitation in declaring the children as legitimate and entitled to succeed to the deceased’s estate.

It is well settled in Christianity that the heirs’ religion is immaterial and the only material fact is that the deceased should have belonged to the Christian religion on the date of death. The rights granted to the biological child are not recognised for the adopted child.

Catholic Priests and Inheritance

The Indian courts in several cases pertaining to inheritance for Catholic Priests have held that the right to inherit a distributive share is not extinguished either by usage or existing personal laws.

The Madras High Court adjudged in a dispute regarding inheritance that the provisions of the ISA relating to Christians are also applicable in the case of inheritance of property of a Priest and is allowed only to the natural heirs of the deceased and not to superiors of the priest.

Catholic Nuns and Inheritance

With regard to the rules for succession in the case of the Catholic Nuns also, there have been different views taken by the Karnataka High Court and the Kerala High Court.

The Karnataka High Court has opined that a nun is entitled to a distributive share in the property of her natural family in case on intestate succession. However, the Kerala High Court has stated that where a nun ceases to have any connection with her natural family after entering the Church, the legal effect is that she is not considered to have a father, a mother or a family and is thus not entitled to a share in the estate of her natural family.

Therefore, the views taken by the two High Courts are diametrically opposed as regards the status of a nun for inheritance.


The principal of Escheat is applicable to the Christian laws of inheritance to effect that in case of absence of any lineal descendants and kindred to the deceased, the property shall devolve upon the Government.

Indian Inheritance Laws

Indian Inheritance Laws

This article discusses the laws governing Inheritance in India. The Indian laws of inheritance are religion specific. There different laws existing in India for inheritance vary for Hindus, Muslims and Christians etc.

The article discusses in detail the various laws relating to inheritance in India pertaining to various religions, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians. The key provisions under the relevant laws for various religions are discussed below. The Hindu laws have been codified by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The rules pertaining to Muslims have not been codified and arise from the practices being followed. The Indian Succession Act, 1925 provides for the inheritance laws for all other religions, including Christians.

India is a host to various religions and a hub of cultures and so it has multiple laws pertaining to inheritance for the various religions and sects present in the country, generally differing as per the religious backgrounds of the subjects. These laws have developed to their present positions from the practices and customs traditionally followed by the persons belonging to the said religion. Certain laws have been codified into legislations by the act of parliament; however some still remain uncodified, being followed in accordance to the customs of the religion.

Inheritance – Meaning

Inheritance is the passing of a person’s estate and assets to the heirs on the individual’s death and results in the devolution of property upon death. An heir is a person who is entitled to the property of a deceased individual. Persons jointly inheriting property are termed as coparceners.

Indian inheritance laws

There are diverse laws of inheritance and are different for the Hindus, Muslims and Christians, some being codified and some being dependent on the practices and customs. Certain succession rules are also applicable on a state basis.

Constitutionally, it is has been argued time and again that having laws for different sects or religions in the society are opposed to the idea of a uniform Civil Code and the tenets of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Uniform Civil Code in the light of personal laws and their applicability become a utopia for the principles of secularism.
Though, it may be validly argued that personal laws are not unconstitutional as the constitution guarantees equality to all its subjects in law and equality has to be construed between equals. Variation in religion gives rise to variation in the entire character fabric of a person. Hence, two people belonging to two different religions are considered unequal by the supporters of this theory.


The laws of inheritance are peculiar owing to their nature involving division and distribution of the property, estate and assets belonging to a person, who has deceased. The Central legislation in the Indian Succession Act applies to all those religions having no specific laws governing the succession and inheritance of the community.
The laws of inheritance in India are being developed constantly. India is the country where the women were entitled only to the minimal rights pertaining to estate in history. But, with the concentrated efforts of the Government, the status of women in India is being uplifted to a level at par with the men and there have been consequent amendments to the prevalent legislations.

Gender based succession in India

Gender based succession in India

The laws governing Inheritance for Hindus in India have been segregated on the basis of gender. The gender specific laws of inheritance have been provided under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

The article discusses in detail the various gender-specific provisions regarding the laws relating to inheritance in India for the Hindus, as contained under the codifying legislation, Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The laws governing Inheritance in India are polarised by the gender factor of the deceased and the beneficiaries under the succession. The gender marginalisation has been existing in the Indian society since time immemorial, thus probably also find existence under the legislation.

Male intestate succession

The rules governing intestate succession in case of a Hindu male are contained in Section 8 to 13 of the HSA. These provide that property of an intestate Hindu male devolves upon the following heirs in the order as specified below:

  1. Upon the Class I heirs;
  2. If there is no Class I heir, then upon the Class II heirs;
  3. If there is no Class II heir, then upon the Agnates; and
  4. If there is no Agnate, then upon the Cognates.

The order of succession as provided signifies that the Class I heirs inherit the estate in exclusion to all others and in case of absence of a Class I heir, the state devolves upon the Class II heirs in exclusion to all other and so on.
Class I and Class II Heirs
The Schedule to the HSA provides for the list of relations covered under each of the classes of heirs. The Schedule explicitly excludes a brother or sister by uterine blood in any reference to a brother or sister. The heirs have been divided in the following manner:

    1. Class I heirs: Son; daughter; widow; mother; son of a pre-deceased son; daughter of a pre-deceased son; son of a pre-deceased daughter; daughter of a pre-deceased daughter; widow of a pre-deceased son; son of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son; daughter of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son; widow of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son.
      The relations of ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ include both natural and adopted. Amongst the Class I heirs, the distribution among themselves is as follows:
      (i) The intestate’s children, mother and widow each take one equal share. The term ‘children’ includes both son and daughter and it is irrelevant whether the daughter is unmarried or married, as she gets an absolute share equal to that which the son gets; and
      (ii) The heirs in the branch of each predeceased child take one share between them.
    2. Class II heirs: The Class II heirs would be entitled to inherit the estate in the absence of Class I heirs. The below mentioned relations are covered under Class II heirs in the following order only:


        I. Father.

        II. (i) son’s daughter’s son,

        (ii) son’s daughter’s daughter,

        (iii) brother,

        (iv) sister.

        III. (i) Daughter’s son’s son,

        (ii) daughter’s son’s daughter,

        (iii) daughter’s daughter’s son,

        (iv) daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

        IV. (i) Brother’s son,

        (ii) sister’s son,

        (iii) brother’s daughter,

        (iv) sister’s daughter.

        V. Father’s father; father’s mother.

        VI. Father’s widow; brother’s widow.

        VII. Father’s brother; father’s sister.

        VIII. Mother’s father; mother’s mother.

      IX. Mother’s brother; mother’s sister.

Amongst the heirs specified in Class II, those in the first entry inherit the estate simultaneously and in exclusion to those in the subsequent entries i.e. the heirs specified in one entry get an equal share in the property and so on and so forth. Thus, if the father is surviving, he takes the property in exclusion to all other Class II heirs, Agnates and Cognates.

Agnates and Cognates

Two people are called the Agnates of each other, if they are related (either by blood or adoption) wholly through males, although the Agnates could be either males or females. A father’s brother’s daughter is an Agnate but a father’s sister’s son is not an Agnate because the relation is not entirely through males. Similarly on the other hand, two people are Cognates of each other if they are related (either by blood or adoption) not wholly through males, although the Cognates could be either be males or females. A mother’s brother’s daughter or a father’s sister’s son is a Cognate because the relationship is not wholly through males.

Female Hindu’s property

Section 14 of the HSA provides that all property / estate, whether movable or immovable, belonging to a female Hindu acquired by her by way of inheritance, partition, will, gift, on marriage, own efforts, purchase, etc. shall be held by her as an absolute owner and not as a limited owner.
However, in case she has acquired the property by way of a gift or under a will and the terms of such gift or will prescribe a limited estate, then such restriction shall prevail. Thus, a female Hindu has been granted the absolute power to deal with and dispose off her property.

Female intestate succession

The rules governing intestate succession of a Hindu female are provided under Sections 15 and 16 of the HSA. The rules provide that the estate / property of an intestate Hindu female devolves upon the following heirs in the below order:

  1. Upon her sons and daughters (including children of any pre-deceased children) and husband;
  2. Upon heirs of her husband;
  3. Upon her parents;
  4. Upon heirs of her father; and
  5. Upon heirs of her mother.

The order of succession denotes that the husband and the children of a deceased female Hindu would inherit her property in preference and in exclusion to all other heirs specified. In case of the devolution as regards her husband’s heirs, the estate would be treated and would devolve as if it was her husband’s property and he died intestate. To the general rule of the order of devolution, the below mentioned exceptions are carved out:-

  1. In the absence of any son or daughter or children of any pre-deceased son or daughter, any property inherited by a Hindu female from her father or mother shall devolve upon the heirs of the father and not upon any other heirs specified above; and
  2. In the absence of any son or daughter or children of any pre-deceased son or daughter, any property inherited by a Hindu female from her husband or her father-in-law shall devolve upon the heirs of the husband and not upon any other heirs specified above.

It is pertinent to note that these exceptions apply only in case the Hindu female does not leave behind any children or children of any pre-deceased children and only with regard to the property inherited by her and not acquired other ways.

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