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The senior-most male member is the karta of a joint family

Karta does not owe his position to any agreement or consent of other coparceners

Is it true that at the time of partition of an ancestral property, the elder one of the family is deemed as the karta? Does a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) need to declare property earned by its own capacity and is counted as part of the main property?

—Savi Bunkar

At the outset, it is important to understand the concept of a joint Hindu family, a Hindu coparcenary and the distinction between ancestral property and separate property. These concepts are set out in Mulla’s commentary (21st Edition 2010) as under:

1. “A joint Hindu family consists of all person lineally descended from a common ancestor, and includes their wives and unmarried daughters. A daughter ceases to be a member of father’s family on marriage, and becomes a member of her husband’s family."

2. “A Hindu coparcenary is a much narrower body than the joint family. It includes only those who acquire by birth an interest in the joint or coparcenary property. These are sons, grandsons and great-grandsons of the holder of the joint property for the time being. In other words, the three generations next to the holder in unbroken male descent. (The above propositions must be read in the light what is stated in paragraph 1 and keeping in mind that after the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, a daughter of a coparcener has been included as a coparcener along with the sons of the coparcener)."

3. “To understand the formation of coparcenary, it is important to note the distinction between ancestral property and separate property. Property inherited by a Hindu from his father, father’s father or father’s father’s father, is ancestral property. Property inherited by him from other relations is his separate property. The essential feature of ancestral property is that if the person inheriting it has sons, grandsons or great-grandsons, they become joint owner’s coparceners with him. They become entitled to it due to their birth."

The propositions in points 2 and 3 must be read in the light of what is stated in point 1 and keeping in mind that after the amendment of the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, a daughter of a coparcener has been included as a coparcener along with the sons of the coparcener.

In response to your query, ordinarily, the senior-most male member is the karta of the joint family. He does not owe his position to any agreement or consent of other coparceners. So as long as he is alive, even though he may be aged, infirm, or ailing, he will continue to be the karta. Thus the eldest male member of the family is deemed to be karta of a HUF.

Mulla’s commentary (21st Edition 2010) also says, “So long as the members of a family remain undivided, the senior member of the family is entitled to manage the family properties; including even charitable properties and is presumed to be the manager until the contrary is shown."

“However, the senior member may give up his right of management, and a junior member may be appointed manager. Similarly, a junior member can act as karta if the senior member has relinquished his right expressly or impliedly or in the absence of the manager under exceptional circumstances. On the death of karta, the senior-most male adult member may be brought on record in execution proceedings."

Further, when there is a partition of ancestral joint HUF property, every coparcener will get his share of the property. However, there will be a presence of small nuclear families containing two or more coparceners after partition. So in those nuclear families the senior-most coparcener, i.e. senior-most male member, will be deemed as karta.

To illustrate the above, suppose there is a family comprising of father (A), three sons (B, C, D) and their respective wives and two sons each. All the male members will be coparceners in a such family. Now after partition of ancestral property of such a family, there will be small nuclear families of all the three sons consisting of their respective wives and two sons. So the sons (B, C, D) being the senior-most male members of their respective families will be deemed as karta. Therefore B, C, and D will be karta now for their respective joint HUF consisting of their wives and two sons.

For the second part of the question, we assume that the question is whether the self-acquired property of the karta is considered to be a part of the main property belonging to the HUF. The answer to this is “no", since the self-acquired properties of any coparcener always remain separate from the main joint HUF property. Therefore, the karta being the manager as well as coparcener of the joint HUF, can have his own self-acquired property which will not form a part of the main joint HUF property.

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