What if a person dies without a Will in India

What happens if a person dies without a Will? How does Hindu Succession Act apply?

A written and a registered Will is the best and most convenient way for you to pass on your estate to the persons whom you want to. However, very few people take the trouble of writing a Will and get it registered. Most people die without writing a Will.Then the distribution of property will be done based on the whether the deceased is male or female.

Now what happens if a person dies without a will and to whom his/her property will pass on? The Hindu Succession Act 1956 is quite clear about it.

Hindu Succession Act 1956

If a Hindu person dies without a will or the will is missing, the wealth of the person will be divided on the basis of the “Hindu Succession Act”.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956, is a law that was passed by the parliament of India in 1956 to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or un-willed succession, among Hindus.
The Act was amended in 2005 by the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005. It is also applicable to Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.The Act also underlines the rules in case if the deceased is a male or female. A child in the womb has the same right as a born child.

How to distribute the property to legal heirs of deceased male if there is no will

The property of a Hindu male dying intestate, or without a will, would be first distributed to heirs within Class I. If there are no heirs categorized as Class I, the property will be given to heirs within Class II. If there are no Class I or II heirs, then the property will first go to agnates (distant blood relatives of male lineage) and if no agnates are available then to cognates (distant blood relatives of male or female lineage). And if there are no cognates, then the estate will go to government.

Class I Legal Heirs

if the deceased is male

The following relations are considered to be Class I heirs:

  • Son/Daughter
  • Widow
  • Mother
  • Son/Daughter of a pre-deceased son (pre-deceased means “already Dead”)
  • Son/Daughter of a pre-deceased Daughter
  • Widow of a pre-deceased son
  • Son/Daughter of a pre-deceased son of a pre-deceased son (3 levels)
  • Widow of a pre-deceased son of a predeceased son

The widow (or widows), mother and each child(son or daughter, the law makes no distinction) take equal shares. Where one or more of such sons or daughters are no more, then, the Class 1 heirs in that branch will all jointly stand in the place left behind by such deceased son or daughter.

Example 1:

A person ‘A’ dies without writing a will. He is survived by wife, son and a daughter. In this case, A’s wife, son and daughter come under class 1 heirs. so, all 3 people being class 1 heirs will get an equal share in A’s wealth.

Example 2:

A person ‘B’ dies without writing a will. He is survived by following in the family: wife, son and 2 children of his dead daughter. In this case, there are 3 units: 1 his wife, 1 his son and 1 the children of his deceased daughter. His wife will get 1/3rd share, his son will get 1/3rd share and remaining 1/3rd share will be divided amongst the 2 children of his deceased daughter.

Example 3:

A person ‘C’ dies without writing a will. His wife is already dead. He is survived by 2 sons and 2 daughters. All of them are married. In this case, the wealth will be equally divided between his 2 sons and his 2 daughters. Each one will get 1/4th share in the wealth.

Class II Legal Heirs

In case no Class-I heirs are available, Class-II heirs, are considered. Among the heirs specified in Class II, those who are mentioned first get the property simultaneously and in exclusion to those in the subsequent entries. For example, if the father is no longer alive, then the second in list such as “(1) Son’s daughter’s son (2) son’s daughter’s daughter, (3) brother & (4) sister” will get the property in equal measure, provided all the heirs are available.

(i) Father

(ii) (1) Son’s daughter’s son (2) son’s daughter’s daughter, (3) brother,(4) sister.

(iii) (1) Daughter’s son’s son, (2) daughter’s son’s daughter, (3) daughter’s daughter’s son, (4) daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

(iv) (1) Brother’s son (2) Sister’s son, (3) brother’s daughter (4) Sister’s daughter.

(v) Father’s father. Father’s mother.

(vi) Father’s widow, brother’s widow.

(vii) Father’s brother, father’s sister.

(viii) Mother’s father, mother’s sister.

(ix) Mother’s brother, mother’s sister.

How to distribute the property to legal heirs of deceased female if there is no will

hindu succession act

The property of a female Hindu dying intestate shall devolve according to the following order:

(a) firstly upon the sons and daughters (including the children of any pre- deceased son or daughter) and the husband,
(b) secondly upon the heirs of the husband,
(c) thirdly upon the mother and father,
(d) fourthly upon the heirs of the father and
(e) lastly upon the heirs of the mother.

In case of a Hindu female dying intestate, and without any issue or any children or any predeceased children, any property inherited by her from her parents shall not devolve upon her husband or his heirs but revert to her natal family.

Similarly, in case a Hindu female dies intestate and without any issue or any children or any predeceased children, then any property inherited by her from her husband or her father-in-law devolves upon the heirs of her husband.

Thus, property inherited from her husband would not devolve upon her father or his heirs.

Example 4:

A widow without any children dies without a Will. She has 3 properties in her name.1 acquired from her father through gift, second acquired from her own sources of money and third acquired from her husband through will. The property 1 will go to her father’s legal heirs. The property 2 will go to her husband’s legal heirs and property 3 will also go to her husband’s legal heirs.

Agnates and Cognates

If there are no heirs in Class II, the property will be distributed to the deceased’s agnates(a male or female descendant by male links from a common male ancestor) or relatives through male lineage (for example first cousin and their children). If there are no agnates or relatives through the male’s lineage, then the property is given to the cognates (One related by blood or origin with another, especially a person sharing an ancestor with another), or any relative through the lineage of males or females (for example, second cousin and their children).

If someone leaves behind neither Class 1 heirs, nor Class 2 heirs, nor agnates, nor cognates, the entire property lapses to the Government.

Certain Exceptions

1.Any person who commits murder is disqualified from receiving any form of inheritance from the victim.

2.If a relative converts from Hinduism, he or she is still eligible for inheritance. The descendants of that converted relative, however, are disqualified from receiving inheritance from their Hindu relatives, unless they have converted back to Hinduism before the death of the relative.

3.The widow succeeds to the property in equal share along with the sons and daughters of her deceased husband. If she remarries, she does not succeed to the estate of her former husband.


The above discussion is a simple commentary on the Hindu Succession Act. However, it is always advisable to write a will and get it registered and keep it safe within the knowledge of the next kin alive to avoid any complication for the near and dear ones to whom one wants to pass on the estate.

Hope you have got elaborate information about the Hindu Succession Act. If you have any queries, please share it in the comment section.

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5 thoughts on “What happens if a person dies without a Will? How does Hindu Succession Act apply?”

  1. Wife died in 2011, Husband died in 2018. Both do not have children. Each of
    them have got an immovable(vacant site, house)asset registered in their individual name. Wife’s parents,sister and brothers are alive. Husband’s bro-
    thers and sisters are alive. Who among these are the LEGAL HEIRS to claim
    the above two immovable assets/properties? No WILL was written by either of

  2. I have a doubt from the exception section.
    If the wife of the dead remarries and takes son and daughter to live with her second husband, who shall get the property of her previous husband? She, her son and daughter or his mom?

  3. what can be done in a situation where the Grandmother dies without leaving a will . She has the asset in her name. How to proceed with the asset transfer . And the son is the adopted son of the Grandmother. And the son has 2 childerens . So how will the distribution of asset happen .

    1. Rajneesh,

      The adopted son is a legal heir. He will have equal share along with the other legal heirs. If the adopted son is the only legal heir, then the entire estate will be bequeathed to the adopted son.

      In this case, if the adopted son is pre-deceased (already dead), then the estate will be equally shared by the legal heirs of the adopted son.


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