Difference Between Nominee and Legal Heir

Law Family Law

While planning savings and investments, one must know the difference between a Nominee and a Legal Heir to ensure that their investments are handed over to their loved ones after their demise...

A person during his life makes several investments by opening bank accounts and making fixed deposits, purchasing insurance policies, contributing towards employees’ provident funds, acquiring immovable property, or even investing in shares. A question that generally arises is, “what would happen to these acquisitions and investments after the holder’s death?”. In most cases, holders/owners make nominations for their various assets and investments in their lifetime, to take effect after their death. Along with this, owners/holders may also decide how they desire their property to be allocated after death. The competing rights of nominees and heirs have always been debated. 

There are critical differences between nominees and legal heirs that you should understand - nominees do not have the same rights as heirs, which we will read in this article.

Writing a will is crucial if you consider the entire legal ramifications and importance from a larger perspective. It is a written declaration made by an individual about distributing their wealth, assets, and property to beneficiaries or legal heirs, as per their wishes. Beneficiaries can include members of the family, friends, other relatives, acquaintances, organizations, charities, and so on.

Who is the Nominee?

As the name suggests, a Nominee is someone who another person chooses to function as their representative in a particular matter. They are the ones who receive the assets or amount on the demise of another person.

The Nominee is not the owner but, for the time being, acts as the holder of the deceased's wealth and passes it to the legal heir, according to the will drafted by the deceased.

A person can choose a Nominee only from their family members. Any nomination done favoring persons other than the family members is termed void. However, if a person has no family, they can nominate any person as a nominee. Whenever the person acquires the family, the previous nomination becomes invalid, and a fresh nomination takes place in favor of the family members.

Who is the legal heir?

The legal heir refers to an individual who has the entitlement and right to claim the assets/property of the deceased individual under the signed legal will. The legal heir will be mentioned as the critical inheritor by the dead person. There can be one or even multiple people as a legal heir.


In the absence of a will or stated legal heir, the property will be equally distributed as per the Hindu Succession Act 1956, under the following scenarios:

  • Equal distribution amongst all Class 1 heirs
  • In the absence of Class 1 heirs, equal distribution will happen amongst Class 2 heirs.
  • In the absence of Class 2 heirs, distribution amongst Agnates (person-related to the deceased person either by blood/ adoption) and then Cognates (person-related to the dead person through one or more females).
  • If no one is present, in this case, the Government has the right to conquer the property of the deceased person.

It can be observed that the nominee is only a trustee of the property who has to hand over the same to the legal heir of the property, based on the will made by the person deceased.

See how you can obtain a legal heir certificate in India.

 Meaning Nominee means a person nominated by another to act as a custodian of the assets in the event of death.  A legal Heir refers to a successor, whose name is mentioned in the deceased's will, as the final owner of the asset.
 Role Trustee Beneficiary
 Indicates The hands authorized to receive the amount or asset. The hands are entitled to own the amount or asset.
 Determined   by Nomination Will or provision of succession law.

Law of Succession-

The law of succession refers to the rules of transferring the rights and obligations left by the deceased without creating a Will. These rules denote the transmission of the deceased's rights and obligations to his legal heirs. It also includes new charges, rights, and duties resulting from the existing ones after opening the succession.


There are three types of succession:

  • Testamentary succession: This type is accomplished when a testament specifying the heir to one's property is accomplished in a manner advised by law.
  • Legal succession: This is settled in favor of the closest living blood relation of the deceased.

It's the succession established in favor of the nearest living blood relations of the deceased.

  • Irregular succession: refers to the succession established by law in the absence of legal heirs.

Sum-up of Differences Between Nominee and Legal Heir

1. The nominee is someone whose nomination is made by another person to sanction them to get the sum after their demise. Whereas, the legal heir is the person who gets the ownership interest in the wealth and assets of another person in the event of that person's death.

2. The nominee acts as the agent, who holds another person's property till the time it is transferred to the legal heir. As against, the legal heir who plays the beneficiary's role and has an ownership interest in the deceased's property.

3. A nominee is permitted to receive the amount after the who made the nomination’s death, and the legal heir is the one who has the fundamental right to the wealth, assets, and investment of the deceased person.

4. Nomination decides the legal nominee, whereas a person's will decides the legal heir. And in the absence of choice, the provisions of succession law shall apply


To a large extent, the nominee and the legal heir ascertain two different persons: the former, who determines the ultimate owner of the property, and the latter decides the recipient of the parcel. However, a person can be the nominee and legal heir at the same time when they are nominated for the investments and other holdings, and their name is also listed in the will as the legal heir.


Is the legal heir and nominee the same?

The legal heir and nominee are two distinct parties; the nominee can be the legal heir if they have been nominated for wealth/assets, and their name is to be listed in the will as the legal heir.

Does a nominee have the right to the property?

A nominee (according to a nomination by the deceased) acts only as an agent/ representative of the rightful legal heirs, holding the property till the matter of succession has been decided under law.

Does the nominee become the owner of the flat after death?

As stated in the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act, 1960, the flat can be transmitted to the nominee. Although, the nominees can neither become the property owner nor sell the property without the permission of the legal heirs.

What is the meaning of nominee in property?

A nominee is a caretaker/agent of the assets who aren't the owner but a person who is legally bound to transfer the asset to the legal heirs.