Published on
20 May 2023
3 min read

Nominee vs. Legal Heir in India: Understanding the Crucial Differences

Monika Taparia
Sep 11, 2023


The understanding of the legal terminology, especially when it comes to inheritance and estate planning in India, can be quite complicated. Two terms that often cause confusion are "Nominee" and "Legal Heir". Understanding their precise roles and how they relate to the distribution of assets is crucial in avoiding disputes and complications.

Nominee vs. Legal Heir: The Basic Difference

A nominee is a person who is appointed by the asset holder to take care of his assets in the event of his sudden demise. They act as the custodian of the assets. It's crucial to note that being a nominee does not automatically entitle the person to become the owner of the assets.

On the other hand, a legal heir is a person who is entitled to inherit the assets of the deceased by virtue of the inheritance laws of India. These individuals can be family members such as spouse, children, parents, or anyone mentioned in the deceased's will.

Understanding the Role of a Nominee

A nominee is essentially a trustee or custodian of your assets. The rights of a nominee are:

  • The nominee can claim the assets from the organization (like a bank or mutual fund house) after the death of the asset holder.
  • They are responsible for preserving the assets till the legal heirs can claim it.
  • They must hand over the assets to the legal heirs as per the law or the will.

Understanding the Role of a Legal Heir

A legal heir has the ultimate right to inherit the property or assets as per the Indian law. Their rights are:

  • They can claim ownership and exclusive rights to use the assets after the death of the asset holder.
  • They are entitled to object if the assets are not distributed as per the law or the will.
  • They can legally challenge the nomination if they find it contrary to the law or the will.

Complications and Confusions

Commonly, confusion arises when the nominee and the legal heir are not the same person. The Indian law, in such cases, clearly states that the nominee will only hold the assets in trust and must eventually transfer them to the legal heirs. The Supreme Court has reiterated this in several judgements.

The Importance of a Will

Having a clear, legally valid Will in place significantly eases the asset distribution process and helps avoid disputes among family members. The Will should explicitly state the division of assets and clearly identify both nominees and legal heirs.


The roles of a nominee and a legal heir in India are distinctly different, and understanding these differences is essential in effective estate planning. While a nominee acts as a caretaker of your assets after your demise, a legal heir is the person who eventually inherits those assets.

Still confused about the differences between a nominee and a legal heir? Unsure about how to draft a comprehensive Will? Don't worry. Our team of legal experts is here to guide you through every step of the way. Reach out to us at +91 80692 32888, drop a WhatsApp message on +91 87644 47848, or write to us at to know more about Wills, notarisation, and registration. Secure your family's future by making informed decisions today.