11 Basic Changes brought about by the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 are mentioned below:
The Act lays down a uniform and comprehensive system of inheritance, and applies to persons governed by both the Mitakshara and the Dayabhaga schools, as also to persons in certain parts of Southern India, who were previously governed by the Marumakkatayam, Aliyasantana and Nambudri systems of Hindu Law.
When the Act came into force, S. 6 provided that when a male Hindu dies, having an interest in a Mitakshara coparcenary property, his interest would devolve by survivorship upon the surviving members of the coparcenary, and not according to the rules of succession laid down in the Act. However, this rule has now been abrogated by the 2005 Amendment of the Act.
The two systems of inheritance to the separate or self-acquired property of a male dying intestate, which prevailed under the Mitakshara and Dayabhaga Schools before the passing of the Act, are abolished, and a uniform system is introduced by S. 8 of the Act.
Prior to the passing of the Act, the Mitakshara School recognised three classes of heirs, viz., (a) Gotraja Sapindas, (b) Samanodakas, and (c) Bandhus. Likewise, the Dayabhaga School recognised three classes of heirs, viz. (a) Sapindas, (b) Sakulyas, and (c) Bandhus.
Under the Act, this classification of heirs is abolished, and the Act divides heirs into four classes or categories, viz., (a) heirs of Class I, (b) heirs of Class II, (c) agnates, and (d) cognates.
The Hindu women’s limited estate is abolished by the Act, and any property possessed by a female Hindu, howsoever acquired, is to be held by her as her absolute property, and she is given full power to deal with it and dispose it off by will as she likes. (See S. 14 of the Bare Act in Appendix II.)
Under the previous uncodified law, succession to stridhan (woman’s property) varied according as a woman was married or unmarried, and if married, according to the form of the marriage. It also varied according to the source of the stridhan. Further, the rules of descent of the different schools also varied. All these distinctions are now abolished, and S. 15 of the Act lays down a uniform scheme of succession to the property of a female Hindu who dies intestate after the commencement of the act.
Prior to the passing of the Act, according to the Mitakashara Law, no coparcener could dispose of by will, his undivided coparcenary interest, even if the other coparceners consented to the disposition. This rule is now abrogated by the Explanation to S. 30, which expressly lays down that such interest is to be deemed to be property capable of being disposed of by a Hindu under a will.
Under the texts of the Dharma shastras as interpreted by the Courts, certain defects, deformities and diseases excluded an heir from inheritance. Now S. 28 of the Act discards such grounds of exclusion, and lays down that no person shall be disqualified from succeeding to any property on the ground of any disease, defect or deformity.
Another change brought about by the Act is that impartible estates (except those mentioned in S. 5(ii) and S. 5(iii) of the Act) cease to be recognised as such. Under the Act, such property has all the ordinary incidents of property held by a Hindu.
The Act also provides that in case where property of an intestate devolves upon two or more heirs, if any one of them proposes to transfer his or her interest therein, the other heirs have a preferential right to acquire the interest proposed to be so transferred. (See S. 22 of the Act.)
The Act has made the mode of succession plain and simple, and several doubts cast by conflicting decisions of the Privy Council and the various High Courts are now removed. The Act is indeed characteristic of an age which is one of great ideals and fast-changing theories.