Inheritance under Hindu Succession Act: What happens when an heir converts

  • A person who has converted from Hinduism to another religion, such as Christianity, is not disqualified from inheriting the property of their Hindu relatives

Aditya Chopra, Amay Jain
First Published4 Jun 2024, 05:08 PM IST
The Act also stipulates that the descendants of the convert are disqualified from inheriting the property from their Hindu relatives unless they are Hindus at the time of the succession. (iStockphoto)
The Act also stipulates that the descendants of the convert are disqualified from inheriting the property from their Hindu relatives unless they are Hindus at the time of the succession. (iStockphoto)

My sister converted to Christianity although my family is Hindu. In the event of my father’s or mother’s demise, how would the succession of assets happen if they did not create a will?

—Name withheld on request 

In the event of the demise of your father or mother without leaving a will, the distribution of their assets would be governed by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. According to this law, the estate of the deceased is inherited by the legal heirs classified under different categories, with primary preference given to Class I heirs. Class I heirs include the sons, daughters, widow and mother of the deceased, each of whom is entitled to an equal share of the estate. This means that all children, irrespective of their gender, would receive an equal portion of the inheritance, alongside the widow and the mother of the deceased.

When it comes to a situation where one of the children has converted to another religion, Section 26 of the Hindu Succession Act comes into play. This section specifies that a person who has converted from Hinduism to another religion, such as Christianity, is not disqualified from inheriting the property of their Hindu relatives. Therefore, your sister, despite her conversion to Christianity, retains her right to an equal share of the inheritance from your parents’ estate.

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However, the Act also stipulates that the descendants of the convert (i.e., your sister’s children) are disqualified from inheriting the property from their Hindu relatives unless they are Hindus at the time of the succession. This rule ensures that while the converts themselves are not deprived of their inheritance rights, their non-Hindu descendants do not benefit from the Hindu ancestral property.

To illustrate, suppose your father or mother passes away without a will. The estate would be divided equally among all surviving Class I heirs. If you and your sister are the only children, each of you along with your mother would be entitled to one-third of the estate. Despite your sister’s conversion to Christianity, she would still receive her one-third share. However, her children, if they follow Christianity or any other non-Hindu religion, would not inherit her share if she were to predecease your parents or if succession moves to the next generation.

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This approach ensures a balanced consideration of both religious conversion and inheritance rights, reflecting the principles of equality and fairness under the Hindu Succession Act, while also preserving the cultural and religious continuity within the family line. Therefore, it is essential for families to be aware of these provisions to understand how assets will be distributed and to make informed decisions about estate planning and will creation to ensure their wishes are honored.

Aditya Chopra is managing partner and Amay Jain is senior associate, at Victoriam Legalis-Advocates & Solicitors.

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First Published:4 Jun 2024, 05:08 PM IST
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