Women’s right over maintenance property continues even after death: SC

In another pro-women ruling, the Supreme Court has said that a woman’s right over property, given in lieu of maintenance to be enjoyed during lifetime, cannot be taken away after death and she is entitled to bequeath the assets as per her will.

The SC ruling follows a recent order making it clear that a woman continues to have a right to her “streedhan” even if separated from her husband.

The court had in a 2005 ruling granted women a co-equal share in inherited property, though it had recently clarified that this comes into effect from that year onwards.

A bench of Justices M Y Eqbal and C Nagappan said a woman’s right over the property given for maintenance is absolute and in-laws cannot claim it after her death. It said maintenance for wife or widow is not a mere formality to be exercised as a matter of concession but a valuable right for the woman which cannot be denied under Hindu law.

The court held that even in cases where only limited right is created in favour of a woman, this becomes absolute under the Hindu Succession Act.

“It is well settled that under the Hindu law, the husband has got a personal obligation to maintain his wife and if he is possessed of properties then his wife is entitled to a right to be maintained out of such properties.”

The court passed the order on a plea filed by a widow’s in-laws challenging her decision to bequeath the properties, given for her maintenance, to a third party. The relatives had maintained that the properties were given to her to enjoy only during her lifetime and the ownership must be vested with them after her death, a plea rejected by the SC.

Holding that the widow was occupying the property in lieu of maintenance, the bench said, “whatever form a limited interest is created in her favour who was having a pre-existing right of maintenance, the same has become an absolute right by the operation of Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act.”

“A Hindu woman’s right to maintenance is a personal obligation so far as the husband is concerned, and it is his duty to maintain her even if he has no property. If the husband has property then the right of the widow to maintenance becomes an equitable charge on his property and any person who succeeds to the property carries with it the legal obligation to maintain the widow,” the court said.

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