Gender Dynamics on Inheritance Rights: A Study of Succession Laws

Author-Jagrit Singla, Baba Farid Law College, Faridkot


This article delves into the succession/inheritance rights of the male and female legal heirs of the deceased person by exploring the different personal laws prevailing in Indian society. This article talks about the shares inherited by the son, daughter, spouse, mother, or other legal heirs under the different customs of different religions like Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Parsis and the laws followed by them. This article also delves into the challenges being faced in society due to different customary norms prevailing in creating the impact of gender dynamics on inheritance rights and how these challenges can be overcome for future growth which helps in equalizing inheritance rights in society. 

Keywords : Inheritance, Joint Property, Succession Laws, Coparceners, Legal Heirs, Ancestral Property, Self-acquired Property, Customary Practices, Gender Equality, Legal Heirs


Inheritance is a convention of passing or transferring the properties, rights, titles, interests as well as the obligations and debts to the legal heirs of the deceased person. The inheritance rights thus, refer to the legal entitlement of the individuals /legal heirs to inherit the property, wealth, and assets from the deceased member of the family, which was in the ownership of such deceased person. The inheritance rights are governed by the succession laws which may vary across different jurisdictions and are influenced by the different cultures, religion, and other factors.

In India, the succession or inheritance laws differ according to the different cultures and religions, for instance the Inheritance in Hindus is governed by “Hindu Succession Act, 1956,” in Muslims it is governed by the Muslim Laws, etc. The property, assets, wealth, etc. can be inherited by the legal heirs in the following two ways: –

  • Wills/ Testament;
  • Intestate Succession Laws (person dying Intestate, i.e., without making Will)

Meanings and Explanation:

  • Legal Heirs: Legal Heirs means the individuals who are entitles to inherit the property, assets, and wealth of a deceased person according to the provisions of the customs and laws. Legal heirs mainly include spouses, children, parents and other relatives of the deceased as specified in the succession laws.
  • Succession: Succession means the process by which the rights, duties, properties, titles, or obligations are transferred from one person to another. According to the inheritance laws, succession refers to the transmission of property, assets, and other interests upon the death of an individual.
  • Co-parceners: The concept of the coparceners is found in the Hindu Laws and pertains to the joint ownership of property in Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). Coparceners means the individuals who jointly hold an undivided interest in an inherited ancestral property.

Historical Background:

The inheritance laws are personal laws which exists from the ancient times, so as the old-fashioned laws, the equal rights were not given to the women. In many cultures, the right over the entitlement of the joint property was inherited to the sons only, sons were considered as the prior legal heirs and daughters have no or limited right to inheritance; which perpetuates the economic disparities and gender inequality.

The Hindu Succession Act, was enacted in the year 1956 and that time the women had no right to inherent the properties of her father dying intestate. After passing the “Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005,” the equal rights are provided to the daughters as well in the coparcenary property. After the said amendment, the daughters shall have the same rights by birth as that of a son in the Joint Hindu Family as a co-parcener and thus, have the right to claim by survivorship.

Case: “Prakash vs. Phulavati,” (2016)[1], in this case the Supreme Court held that, the living daughters of living coparceners as on 9th September, 2005 can claim the inheritance rights irrespective of when the daughter was born. Any prior disposition or alienation including partition will remain unaffected.

Legal Reforms and Progress:

The legal reforms are made for the welfare and development of the society and these legal frameworks progress over time to cope with the new ages and thus, amendments are done. In the traditional period there exists gender inequality regarding the inheritance rights between the males and females. But as time changes legal reforms are made to address the gender disparities in inheritance rights. Many countries amended their inheritance and succession laws to promote the gender equality and give the same rights to both the males and females by eliminating the discrimination in inheritance laws. In India also, the legal reforms progress which provide equal rights to females of the society.

Types of Properties:

The property which can be inherited among the legal heirs can be classified into two categories:

  1. Self -Acquired Property: The property which is acquired or purchased by a person with his own income or resources and it is not subject to the rules of coparcenary or family lineage.
  2. Ancestral Property: The property which is inherited through successive generations within a family. The property inherited from last four generations, i.e., father, father’s father, or great grandfather will be ancestral property.[2] The ancestral property is governed by the succession laws.

Case: “Sarvamma vs. U.R. Virupakshaiah,”[3] in this case the Court held that the property will be considered as ancestral property only when it is inherited from last four generations in the male lineage without partition and division.

Inheritance Laws in different Religions and Cultures:

  • Hindu Inheritance Laws: The succession/inheritance in Hindus are governed by “Hindu Succession Act, 1956” and the term Hindus include Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Arya Samaj. The property of the person dying intestate in Hindus are distributed among the legal heirs as classified into followed classes: –
  • Firstly, Class I heirs,
  • Secondly, Class II heirs,
  • Thirdly, Agnates, and then
  • Fourthly, Cognates.

Under the Hindu Succession laws the property is first distributed among the legal heirs in Class-I category and if none is available in Class-I then, the property goes to the legal heirs of Class-II, and then to Agnates and then, lastly to the Cognates.

After the amendment of 2005, the daughters are also included in the legal heirs of Class-I and the whole property of the deceased will be equally distributed among son, daughter, mother, widow, and any other living person included in Class-I category.

Case: “Arunachala Gounder vs. Ponnusamy,”[4] in this case the Supreme Court held that in addition to the coparcenary property inherited by the daughter of the deceased through partition, the daughter also has the right to inherit the self-acquired property of a Hindu male who dies intestate, i.e., without making a Will.   

  • Muslim Inheritance Laws: Unlike Hindu inheritance law, the Muslim inheritance law does not distinguish between the self-acquired property and ancestral property. The inheritance under Islamic laws or culture are governed by the “Shias and Sunnis” customs and rules. In the Shias, all the heirs of the deceased get equal share while in Sunnis, the shares are divided based on branches. The property of deceased is distributed among the heirs only after paying all the outstanding debts and charges related to funeral rites.

However, under the Muslim laws, there is some gender inequality while the inheriting the property among the legal heirs as the son is supposed to get double share of what the daughter will have. And in case of the widows, the widow is entitled to share of one-fourth of the property if she has no child; and one-eighth share if she has children.

  • Parsi Inheritance Laws: The inheritance in the Parsis is governed by “The Indian Succession Act, 1925” under Sections 50 to 56. Under the Parsi laws, no distinction is made between the legal heirs who were born in the lifetime of a person deceased or who were only conceived in the womb, at the time of the death of the said person.[5] According to the provision of Section 51 of the Act, the property of the person dying intestate shall be divided equally among the widow/widower, sons, and daughters.
  • Christian Inheritance Laws: The Christian inheritance laws are also governed by “The Indian Succession Act, 1925” under Section 31 to 49. It also does not create any inequality based on gender at the time of inheritance. The property of the deceased dying intestate will be divided among widow/widower and children or any other lineal descendants. The one-third share of the property shall belong to the widow/widower and the remaining two-third shall be equally inherited among the children or lineal descendants of the deceased.[6]

Rights of Women:

  • The women were given unequal rights regarding the inheritance of property. The right of inheritance enjoy by women/daughters are different in different religions and customs, which are explained as follows:
  1. Under Hindu Succession Act, the daughters were not giving equal rights as that of sons. But, after 2005 an amendment has been made and it provides that, daughter shall inherent equal share to that of a mother, grandmother, and brother in the property of her father dying intestate.
  2. After amendment in the Hindu Succession Act, not only the unmarried daughters but, the married daughters also have the right of inheritance in the property of her father.
  • As per Muslim Laws, the women have lesser rights and shares in the property of her husband and father.
  1. The Christian and Parsi Laws provide equal rights and shares to the women and daughters in the property as that of men.

Rights of Natural and Adopted Children:

  1. The natural children have the right of inheritance in the ancestral property by birth, unless a will has been made which opposes it.
  2. The child in the womb of the mother at the time of the death of the person also has the right of inheritance in the ancestral property.
  • The child adopted has the same rights and share as that of the natural child in the property of the adoptive father dying without making a Will.
  • The illegitimate child cannot acquire the property rights.

Challenges and Ongoing Struggle:

Despite the various legal reforms and promotions of gender equality, there still exists some discrepancy among the different cultural and societal norms, which poses as a challenge and hurdles in shaping the impact of gender dynamics on equal inheritance rights. The various backward beliefs are deep-rooted regarding the gender biasness, family structures, property ownerships, etc. within the communities.

Various challenges are being faced while implementing and achieving the full gender equality in the inheritance rights. The legal reforms alone are not sufficient to tackle the challenges faced such as backward thinking of the societies and to create the impact of gender dynamics on the inheritance rights. Other challenges related to different class, religions, castes, race, and ethnicity are being faced which follow their own customary and cultural practices and hinders the progress of gender equality in inheritance laws. In some regions, the customary laws prevail over the statutory laws, which leads to different inheritance practices.

Future Directions:

Gender dynamics stimulus the rights of inheritance by giving equal rights to both male and female heirs and demolishing the impact of historical biasness which favours the males over the females. However, many legal frameworks are established which promotes the equality but still efforts are need to be made to tackle the challenges and complexities of the gender dynamics and inheritance/succession rights. So, to create the impact of gender dynamics on inheritance rights following things can be done in the future: –

  • Uphold the principle of gender equality and protect the rights of all heirs whether male or female;
  • Raising awareness on equal inheritance rights;
  • Promoting education;
  • Nurturing the value of female heirs and their rights in the society by challenging the communities’ harmful stereotypes.


The impact of gender dynamics on inheritance rights is being made but still there are various challenges that need to be tackled for future growth. The succession laws in India are governed by different personal laws according to the cultures and religious practices. However, amendments are being made to encourage the rights of inheritance of the female heirs like the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005 which create the equal rights of the daughters as that of the sons in the property of her father. Still, the legislative reforms need to be improved and cultural norms and biasness should be addressed for achieving the full gender equality in the inheritance laws by enhancing the legal awareness and promoting the education towards fostering equitable inheritance rights in India.


  • Online Articles / Sources Referred
  1. The Article: Inheritance Laws in India- All You Need to Know, written by Pawni Mishra and the link of the article is
  2. The Article: All about Property Inheritance Law in India, written by Adv. Priyanka Sampathy and the link of the article is
  3. The Article:- “Inheritance Rights of Women: How to Protect them and how succession laws vary,” written by Riju Mehta and the link of the article is
  • Cases Referred
  1. Prakash vs. Phulavati AIR 2016 SC 769
  2. Gurdip Kaur Ghamand Singh, 1964 SCC Online Punj 180
  3. Sarvamma vs. U.R. Virupakshaiah 2010 SCC Online Kar 136
  4. Arunachala Gounder vs. Ponnusamy (2022) 11 SCC 520
  • Statutes Referred
  1. Hindu Succession Act, 1956
  2. Indian Succession Act, 1925
  3. LexisNexis, Universal’s, Bare Act Hindu Laws, 2020

[1] AIR 2016 SC 769

[2] Gurdip Kaur vs. Ghamand Singh, 1964 SCC Online Punj 180

[3] 2010 SCC Online Kar 136

[4] (2022) 11 SCC 520

[5] Section 50(a), Indian Succession Act, 1925

[6] Section 33(a), The Indian Succession Act, 1925

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