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I have four siblings. After our mother died in 2005, my father remarried in 2006. My father died on 3 August 2021.  He had invested secretly in real estate. What are our rights and those of our stepmother on his properties?  My father’s siblings forged his signature and sold off the property inherited from my grandfather.  How can we get this back?

— Name withheld on request

 

We have assumed that your father was a Hindu and he died intestate i.e., without a Will. The Hindu Succession Act (HSA) lays down how the estate of a Hindu male will pass in such circumstances.Given that your father married another woman after the death of his first wife, it appears that the second marriage of your father was a valid marriage (assuming the legal requirements and registration were done completely). Assuming so, his children as well as his wife (i.e., stepmother and his children) would be regarded as ‘Class I legal heirs’ under the HSA and therefore, both the stepmother and all the children would have an equal share in your father’s estate. Also, 1/6th share of your father’s estate will devolve on her.

 For your grandfather property, this would require further discussion with your lawyer, as the law around step mothers and ancestral property is still in flux.  In India, there is no central depository or mechanism where one can find out about all the categories of assets/investments held by an individual. As regards immovable properties, an inspection of the books maintained by the concerned office of the sub-registrar can be considered to find out about his investments in immovable properties. If you have access to his bank records, you can also try to find out about his investments in properties through them. Further, you can also check his previous tax and related filings to find out about his real estate holdings.

The children will have to initiate appropriate legal proceedings against the father’s siblings to claim the share of the father in grandfather’s estate. The nature of legal proceedings to be initiated will have to be analysed based on the relevant revenue records and ownership documents available with the children. This will be a time consuming and expensive endeavour, so you may consider mediation as a faster remedy.

Rishabh Shroff is partner, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas.

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