Can any woman lay claim to her son’s assets without a will?

My husband died without creating a will. He owned a few properties and had some investments as well. His mother is now contesting his estate even though she has assets of her own. Is her claim valid?

—Name withheld on request

We assume that your husband was a Hindu and that there is no right or interest of any other person in the property and that these properties were self-earned.

As per Hindu Succession Act, 1956 if a male dies intestate, i.e. without making a will then “general rules of succession in the case of males” apply. It states “The property of a male Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the provisions of this Chapter—(a) firstly, upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class I of the Schedule;(b) secondly, if there is no heir of class I, then upon the heirs, being the relatives specified in class II of the Schedule;(c) thirdly, if there is no heir of any of the two classes, then upon the agnates of the deceased; and (d) lastly, if there is no agnate, then upon the cognates of the deceased.”

The class I legal heirs (whoever is surviving) consists of mother, spouse, children, widow of predeceased son, etc.

In case there is no will, a succession certificate or legal heir certificate is acquired from the competent civil court. This is a document that gives the right to inherit the assets to the legal heirs of the deceased who died intestate.

While your husband’s mother might have her own assets, her claim to a share in your late husband’s estate could be valid under the above applicable legal provisions. Laws and interpretations can vary, so it’s crucial to seek advice from a qualified legal professional to fully understand your rights and responsibilities in this situation.

Also, one may also suggest sitting down with the family to discuss and come to a consensus can be a practical and less adversarial approach. It might also help to avoid the expenses and emotional toll that legal proceedings can bring. However, it’s still advisable to involve legal professionals, even during such discussions, to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected and that any agreement reached is legally valid and binding. Consulting with a legal expert can provide clarity on the best course of action based on your specific circumstances.

Neha Pathak is head of trust and estate planning, Motilal Oswal Private Wealth.

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Updated: 05 Sep 2023, 10:17 PM IST

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