Can Husband Claim Wife's Property After Her Death?

Law
03-May-2024
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When we say “Inheritance” our minds are directly ported to the succession laws. Upon the death of a person, his or her property debts, obligations, and title, are passed on to their heirs, and even though, various societies treat inheritance differently, the treatment of tangible and immovable property is similar. If a will has been left by the wife, then the property will go as per the wife’s will however if she died intestate then it will be treated as per the Hindu Succession Act, in the below order of preference:

  1. To the deceased’s children, the children of her predeceased children and the husband will share the property equally;
  2. In the absence of the husband, the children or children of her predeceased children will get the share;
  3. In the absence of these, the parents of the deceased wife will get the share.

In India, the husband has no right over the property of the wife during her lifetime but if she passes away, her share will devolve upon her husband and kids. If the wife has received her share in her lifetime, the husband can inherit the same post her death but if she has not inherited anything from her parents or ancestors during her lifetime, the husband cannot claim the right post the death of the wife. Any property obtained by the husband from his self-acquired money or finance in the name of the wife can be retained by him even after the death of the husband. In a recent case, the Bombay High Court heard a petition filed against the husband of a deceased wife who died intestate. The contention submitted by the petitioners was that the property was received by the deceased from her parents to which the husband and his children weren’t legally successors as the children were born to the husband’s second wife. Therefore, there was no suitable claim of action in the suit for declaration, partition, and injunction filed by the respondent given the fact that neither the respondent's husband nor his children had any shares in the said property of the deceased wife. It was held that the respondent had no reason to file any suit of action for the partition of the deceased’s property.

Inheritance Rights for Husbands Under Different Personal Laws

Inheritance laws for husbands concerning the wife’s property post her death can vary depending upon the jurisdiction and specific situations surrounding the marriage and the deceased wife’s estate and also upon personal laws. 

  • Like in Hindu Law, husbands do have inheritance rights in the estate of the deceased wives as per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, 
  • similarly, in Islamic law, husbands are entitled to the property right after the wife’s death as per the rules outlined in Shariat.
  •  In Christian law, inheritance laws are based on secular legal principles rather than specific religious doctrines.

 In certain jurisdictions, which follow community property laws, assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered joint property of both spouses and in the event of the wife’s death, the husband would typically inherit the share of the community property by default.

Majorly, there are two types of property – Ancestral and Self-Acquired Property, which can be inherited by the husbands. Ancestral property forms the property inherited from three or more deceased generations. Self-Acquired property is the one which the deceased had purchased or acquired in her lifetime. These can be movable or immovable. Inheritance can be done either through a will or testament or through an intestate succession. A will cannot include the whole of Ancestral Property but only a share of it which is available to the deceased person and in such cases Hindu Succession Act and Shariat laws come into the picture.

In the event, a Hindu Female is deceased her property shall be divided amongst

  • First to her children and husband
  • Then among her husband’s heirs
  • Then among her father and mother
  • Then among her father’s heirs
  • Then among her mother’s heirs

Hindu Law

As per the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, husbands have a legal right to inherit the property of the departed wife and if the Hindu woman dies intestate i.e. without a will, her husband is entitled to inherit her property along with her children and other relatives. Claim over the wife’s property depends on whether the wife has left any portion of the property to the husband or not and the terms outlined in the will. The Hindu Succession Act, of 1956, provides the inheritance rights of spouses for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists. As per Section 15 of the act, the property of a female Hindu will go firstly to the children and husband, secondly to the heirs of the husband, thirdly to the female’s parents then to the heirs of the father and mother of the deceased wife. Notwithstanding anything, any property inherited from the father or mother of the wife shall devolve, in the absence of children, to the heirs of the father.

There are no such conditions for the husband to qualify before obtaining the wife’s property in the case of the presence of a valid will of the wife. However, in the case of intestate succession, all the terms and conditions specified in the act shall apply.

In the case of Prakash vs Phulavati, the Supreme Court of India clarified the rights of daughters and sons as coparceners in a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), it also reaffirmed the principles of succession under the Hindu Law, regarding the rights of the husbands over the deceased wife’s estate.

Muslim Personal Law

Shariat law allows the husbands to inherit from their deceased wives and the inheritance depends on factors like the presence of other heirs, the nature of the wife’s assets, and any other specific provision outlined in the will of the deceased wife. Islamic law provides specific rules regarding inheritance, known as “Faraid” that govern the distribution of the deceased person’s estate among the heirs. As per the Quran and Hadith, inheritance includes the rights and entitlement of spouses to each other’s property. Usually, when a Muslim woman dies intestate, her husband is entitled to inherit a portion of her estate, typically one-half or one-fourth, depending on the case whether the wife had children or not.

The conditions over a husband’s entitlement to claim his wife’s property are the validity of the will if it complies with Sharia principles and legal requirements and is properly witnessed and signed, the share of the husband would be determined as per the rules of inheritance outlined in Sharia, any debts or obligations owed by the deceased wife, and the legal jurisdiction in which dispute regarding the inheritance might arise.

There are no such landmark cases regarding the husband’s inheritance rights under the Muslim Personal Law, courts take into account principles of Islamic Law to resolve inheritance disputes to ensure equitable distribution of assets among the spouses and other heirs.

Christian Law

The Indian Succession Act, of 1925 provides for inheritance laws for Christians and outlines various statutes and legal principles that provide the distribution of property upon a person’s death via the law of inheritance and succession which provides spouses, certain rights to inherit from their deceased spouse’s estate. The Indian Succession Act, of 1925 recognizes three types of heirs for Christians – 1. Spouse; 2. Lineal Descendants; and 3. Kindred.

Lineal descendants shall mean descendants born out of the marriage and shall not include illegitimate children born out of wedlock. However, in the case of Jane Anthony vs Siyath, the court recognized the rights of the illegitimate child under the Indian Succession Act, of 1925. Kindred means relations by blood through a lawful marriage. Thus, a stepfather or a stepmother has no legal right to the property of their stepchildren.

The property of a Christian may be ancestral or self-acquired in two ways: a. By Testamentary Succession – When the deceased has left a will for its property or b. Intestate Succession - When the dead person has not left any will and the property will be governed by personal laws.

The Indian Succession Act provides only for such relations that arise from a legal and valid marriage. A husband has no right to inherit the property of a divorced wife, in case of a judicial separation under the Indian Divorce Act, of 1869, the property of the wife would devolve upon her legal heirs as if her husband were dead.

However, the extent of these rights can be affected by factors like the presence of a valid will, the nature of the property, and applicable legal principles. The share of the husband depends on the presence of children, surviving of other relatives, and the nature of the assets involved.

Conclusion

One of the major concerns that has arisen out of these personal laws is that there exists unequal rights for women as personal laws are archaic and need amendment. In 2005, the Hindu Succession Act gave daughters equal rights as sons in terms of intestate succession. We have also noted that before dividing the property of the dead person, successors must settle all the debts attached to the property and once the succession to the property is confirmed, the heir should apply for a mutation of property in his name. In the event, there exists no will, the inheritance will follow the intestate succession rules as provided in various personal laws.

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