The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 does not follow the old text of disqualifications of heirs and mentions some new disqualifications which debar the heirs to succeed the property of the intestate. These disqualifications are—
(1) Disqualification arising from remarriage. (Section 24)
(2) Disqualification arising on account of commission of murder. (Section 25)
(3) Disqualification arising from conversion. (Section 26)
The old division of disqualifications of heirs into physical, mental, moral, religious and equitable has been dispensed with under the present Act. In Khagendra Nath Ghosh v. Karunadhar, the Calcutta High Court lays down that excepting sections 24, 25 and 26 there is no other provision under the Act which provides for disqualifications of heirs to succeed.
These sections do not disqualify any female heir on the ground of her unchastity or leading an immoral life. Thus the unchastity of wife does not exclude her from claiming inheritance in the property of her husband, nor could she be divested of the property which she has once inherited on the ground that she has become unchaste.
(1) Disqualification Arising From Remarriage:
Before the Amendment of 2005, Section 24 provided for disqualification of certain category of female heirs on the ground of remarriage. Before its omission Section 24 runs as under:
“Any heir who is related to an intestate as a widow of a predeceased son, the widow of a predeceased son of a predeceased son or the widow of brother shall not be entitled to succeed to the property of the intestate as such widow, if, on the date the succession opens, she has remarried.”
Before Amendment of 2005, under old section 24 remarriage became disqualification for:—
(i) Intestate’s predeceased son’s widow; or
(ii) The widow of a predeceased son of a predeceased son; or
(iii) The widow of a brother of the intestate.
If the widow as stated above had remarried during the lifetime of intestate, i.e., before the succession opens.
Prior to amendment of 2005, it is worthwhile to note that the mother had not been disqualified to inherit on remarriage under Section 24 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. The Supreme Court in Smt. Kasturi Devi v. Dy Director of Conslidation, held that a mother cannot be divested of her interest in the property on the ground of remarriage. The provision laying down disqualification of a widowed daughter-in-law to succeed is based on a sacred and spiritual relationship of the wife with her husband.
When she breaks away that relationship by reamarrying and entering another family, she becomes disqualified to inherit the property nor is she entitled to retain the property inherited by her. The same cannot, however, be said of a mother. She is absolutely in a different position, that is why the Hindu law did not provide that even the mother would be disinherited if she remarried.
Any subsequent remarriage after the succession has opened, will not deprive a widow of the share which she has already inherited as an heir. The section does not apply to the widow of the intestate or father’s widow. It was held by the Patna High Court that a Hindu widow succeeding to the properties left by her husband as a widow after the passing of the Hindu Succession Act would not be divested of the said properties on her remarriage thereafter.
In Cherotte Sugatlmn and others v. Cherotte Bharathi and others, the Supreme Court upheld that, if the widow inheriting property of her husband on his death she becomes its absolute owner of that property, subsequently remarriage of widow does not divest her of property because in view of Section 24, of Hindu Succession Act overrides provisions of the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act, 1856.
The disqualification stated in Section 24 is confined to the case of three female heirs. Any heir who is related to the intestate as the widow of the predeceased son, the widow of a predeceased son of a predeceased son, or the widow of the brother shall not be entitled to inherit to the property of the intestate as such widow, if on the date the succession opens, she has remarried.”
The father’s widow, i.e., the step-mother has not been mentioned in this section though she occupies a place as an heir in Entry VI of class II heirs. The mother has been mentioned in class I of the Schedule and she inherits by virtue of that not as the father’s widow. Apart from the provisions of the Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act a mother may inherit from her son after her remarriage because the blood relationship does not cease with her remarriage. After the passing of the Hindu Succession Amendment Act No. 39 of 2005, now the mentioned categories of widows can inherit even if they have remarried.
Where the remarriage by the widow after the death of her husband and suit property held as ancestral property, she would not be entitled to any share in ancestral property because of her remarriage.
Section 25 disqualifies a murderer from inheriting the property of the person murdered. The section runs as under:
“A person who commits murder or abets the commission of murder shall be disqualified from inheriting the property of the person murdered, or any other property in furtherance of the succession to which he or she committed or abetted the commission of the murder.”
The murder is treated as nonexistent and therefore does not form the stock for a fresh line of descent.
The disqualification on the ground of murder extends to every kind of property to which he or she would have been entitled to inherit, had he or she not committed the murder of the intestate. In other words the murderer is also excluded from inheriting the property of any other person, to which he or she would have succeeded, if the person (intestate) murdered had died the natural death.
The heir of the murderer is also disqualified from inheriting the property of the person murdered. For the property does not vest in the murderer and consequently does not devolve on his or her heirs. The abetter of murder is also disqualified.
Where a person who had participated in a murderous attack on his father along with others, who were convicted of murder in that case, was given a benefit of doubt and was convicted under Section 324 I.P.C. instead of Section 302 IPC, even then the disqualifications mentioned in Sections 25 and 27 will come into play and operate against that person inheriting or deriving any beneficial interest in the property possessed or held by his father.”
In Vallikanna v. R. Singaperumal & others, it has been held that a person who has murdered his father or a person from whom he wants to inherit, stands totally disqualified. Section 27 of the Hindu Succession Act makes it further clear that if any person is disqualified from inheriting any property under this Act, it shall be deemed as if such person had died before the intestate.
That shows that a person who has murdered a person through whom he wants to inherit the property stands disqualified on that account. That means he will be deemed to have pre-deceased him. The effect of Section 25 read with Section 27 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, is that a murderer is totally disqualified to succeeded to the estate of deceased. That means that a person who is guilty of committing the murder cannot be treated to have any relationship whatsoever with deceased’s estate.
In Chamanlal v. Lai Mohanlal, it has been held that where a widow was prosecuted for murder of her husband but finally was acquitted from that charge, she was not disqualified from inheriting the property of her husband.
Section 26 disqualifies the convert’s descendants and the children born to such descendants to inherit the property of any of their Hindu relatives. But the children or descendants of such children born after his conversion are not affected by the rule if they are Hindus at the time when the succession opens. Section 26 runs as under:
“Where before or after the commencement of this Act a Hindu has ceased or ceases to be a Hindu by conversion to another religion, children born to him or her after such conversion and their descendants shall be disqualified from inheriting the property of any of their Hindu relatives, unless such children or descendants are Hindu at the time when the succession opens.”
It is interesting to note that the converts have not been disqualified to inherit; only his descendants or children of descendants have been disqualified to inherit, in case they don’t remain Hindu at the time when the succession opens. The section is retrospective in operation and applies to those persons also who had become convert before the commencement of this Act.
Thus where ‘A’ has got three sons namely ‘B’ ‘C and ‘D’ and ‘D’ converts to Christianity during the life time of A. On the death of A, ‘D’ will be entitled to claim a share along with ‘B’ and ‘C. He would not be disqualified to inherit as per Section 26 of the Act and would get 1/3 share in the property of ‘A’.
In the above illustration if D dies after conversion during the lifetime of ‘A’ leaving behind him his two sons ‘M’ and ‘N’, who are born to him after conversion, ‘M’ and ‘N’ would be excluded from inheritance.
Disease, Defect or Deformity not to Disqualify:
Under the old Hindu law physical disability or want of organ viz, deafness, dumbness, congenital and incurable blindness, leprosy etc, mental disability like lunacy, idiocey etc. were the grounds of exclusion from inheritance. The Hindu Inheritance (Removal of Disabilities) Act, 1928 removed all the disqualifications except lunacy or idiocey.
Section 28 of the Act has declared that defect, disease, deformity etc. shall not be the grounds of exclusion from inheritance. The only disqualifications under the Act are those which have been mentioned in Sections 24 to 26. Section 28 runs as follows:
“No person shall be disqualified from succeeding to any property on the ground of any disease, defect or deformity or save as provided in this Act, on any other ground whatsoever.”
Recently in Tondonbi Devi & others v. Kalatnu Singh & others, the Court upheld that, unchastity of widow will not deprive her of right to inherit property on death of her husband.