Can a woman buy and own property?
Yes. A woman over 18 years of age has all the rights to buy property and full ownership rights on property bought by her or willed to her or gifted to her. She can sell or give it away as a gift or through a will.
These rights are not changed due to marriage.
What are the rights that daughters have over parents’ property?
Daughters have equal right of inheritance as sons to their father's property. They also have a share in the mother's property. This is true for property self-acquired by the parent. The rules, however, differ for ancestral property (inherited by the parent), based on whether the parent was alive as of September 2005 or not. For example, if the parent passed away before the Hindu Succession Act, 2005 came into effect, she cannot claim a share in ancestral property.
How about their rights over her husband’s and in-law’s property?
Marriage does not confer automatic rights to a wife over her husband’s property. She can inherit it only after his lifetime and that too only based on the will. In case of the husband’s ancestral property, there are no rights and she can only inherit it from the deceased husband.
Likewise, a daughter-in-law does not have a right over the property of her in-laws. She can only get a share after it is passed on to her husband and then from him through succession (or a will).
Can she claim her rights even if she is widowed or divorced?
During a divorce, a wife would only get a share of the property acquired by the husband after marriage and not of the property owned before marriage. However, as per the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013, women would get 50 per cent share in all properties ownedby the husband upon divorce.
In case the property was paid-for by the husband, but registered in the name of the wife, she is the legal owner and can continue to retain ownership. However, the husband can challenge this in court by proving that he funded the purchase.
A wife cannot claim a share in her husband’s ancestral property, which is not in his name at the time of separation.
In case of a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) property, are there any differences for women?
Based on the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, Hindu women have all the rights as a Hindu male. So, based on a Delhi High Court ruling, the eldest woman in the family can be the Karta (a senior person of the family who manages) in a HUF property. The rights of a daughter are identical to that of a son in her father’s HUF, whether she is married or not. She is a coparcener (lineally descended from a common ancestor) and can also add her individual property into the HUF. However, in her husband's HUF, she can only be a member (who joins the HUF through marriage). Coparceners have the right to ask for partition of the property and to get their share. Members cannot demand a partition but would get their share in case of a partition.
Widows have absolute rights on the husband's share in the HUF property and the right continues even in case of her remarriage. During the partition of a joint family estate, a woman is entitled to a share and upon her husband’s death, she is entitled to his portion.
Are these rules common to all or there are any differences?
The rights differ based on religion. For instance, in case of Muslims, a daughter's share in inheritance is half of a son’s share. In case of divorce, she will inherit one-eighth if there are children or one-fourth if there are none. If there is more than one wife, the share may reduce to one-sixteenth. In case of Christians, a woman has claim over one-third of her husband’s property after his death; the rest will be divided equally among the children.
The rules may also differ between States. For example, in Goa, there are provisions that daughters cannot be given a lesser share than sons.
What happens in case of religious conversions or in case of parents belonging to different religions?
The Caste Disabilities Removal Act requires that a person who changed the religion should be treated equally. So, a daughter has rights to inheritance even after conversion. In case of HUF, a Hindu who changed to other religion can claim ancestral property.
If the parents belong to a different religion, the applicable laws are based on the religious rule of the marriage. For instance, if it was not under any religion and happened under the Special Marriages Act, the succession is governed by Indian Succession Act.
Disclaimer: The answers provided here cover the basics and there are more nuances. It should not be taken as legal advice.
The author is an independent financial consultant