Legal Advice

Stepmother can get share in ancestral property after death of father

Question: My stepmother is asserting her share in the ancestral property, currently registered under my late grandfather's name, who passed away four years ago. The property is yet to be distributed, and my stepmother vacated our ancestral home three years ago, residing elsewhere with her daughter. The daughter, who lived with us before marrying 25 years ago and subsequently leaving our house, is now asserting her rights over the property. I seek advice on the validity of my stepmother and her daughter's claim to my father's property following his demise.

Advise

Your stepmother, as the widow of your father, holds the right to ancestral property if it devolves upon the legal heirs following your father’s demise. However, it’s crucial to note that only coparceners are entitled to a share in ancestral property. Despite not being a coparcener, the widow gains a share in the ancestral property upon her husband’s death and the subsequent partition.

During the partition of ancestral property, it is distributed among all legal heirs of the deceased father. The widow, in this case, your stepmother, is recognized as a Class I heir under the Hindu Succession Act of 1956. According to this act, a widow holds the status of a Class I heir, granting her the right to inherit her deceased husband’s property. Class I heirs are given priority in the succession process, receiving preference in inheriting the assets of the deceased. 

In the Mitakshara school of Hindu law, coparceners have specific rights in ancestral property. The concept of coparcenary is integral to Mitakshara law, and it defines a system of joint family property where male descendants up to four generations are considered joint heirs.

Under Mitakshara coparcenary, the key rights include:

  • Right by Birth: A male member of a Hindu joint family, known as a coparcener, acquires a right in the ancestral property by virtue of birth.
  • Equal Share: Coparceners have an equal share in the ancestral property. This means that each coparcener, regardless of their generation, has an equal entitlement to the property.
  • Right to Seek Partition: A coparcener has the right to demand a partition of the ancestral property. Partition involves dividing the property among the coparceners, giving each a distinct and independent share.
  • Survivorship: In the absence of a partition, the principle of survivorship applies. If a coparcener dies, his share in the ancestral property passes on to the surviving coparceners.

It’s important to note that the Mitakshara coparcenary system has undergone changes through legal reforms, particularly with the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. The amendment abolished the concept of coparcenary in favor of a more equitable distribution of property, ensuring daughters’ rights as coparceners as well.

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow