Published on
24 May 2023
3 min read

Unveiling Legal Aspects: Does a Nominee Supersede a Legal Heir in India?

Monika Taparia
Sep 11, 2023


The legal landscape in India is intricate and multi-layered, especially when it pertains to matters of property succession and inheritance. One of the most common areas of confusion centres around the distinction between nominees and legal heirs. So, does a nominee really supersede a legal heir in India? Let's delve into this and uncover the legal nuances that can help clarify this matter.

Defining Nominee and Legal Heir

  • Nominee: A nominee is a person appointed by the asset owner to take care of the asset in the event of their untimely demise. The nomination is a provision to ensure that the asset is protected and taken care of until legal heirs can claim it.
  • Legal heir: A legal heir, on the other hand, is an individual who is entitled to inherit the assets of a deceased person as per the succession laws. This could include the spouse, children, parents, or other close relatives.

Legal Status of a Nominee Vs. Legal Heir

Contrary to a popular belief, a nominee is not necessarily the ultimate beneficiary of an asset. According to Indian law, a nominee is merely a custodian of the assets and not the owner. The nominee holds the assets until the legal heirs, as defined by the succession laws, can claim them.

Meanwhile, the legal heir is the rightful owner of the deceased person's assets. If a conflict arises between a nominee and a legal heir, the court generally rules in favour of the legal heir, as the law prioritizes inheritance rights.

Case Laws Reinforcing the Superiority of Legal Heirs

There are several case laws that highlight the primacy of legal heirs over nominees.

  • The landmark judgement in the case of Harsha Nitin Kokate Vs. The Saraswat Co-operative Bank Ltd. and Others clarified that a nominee is merely a trustee, not the owner of the assets.
  • Another pivotal judgement came in the case of Ram Chander Talwar Vs. Devender Kumar Talwar where the Supreme Court of India reinforced the rights of legal heirs over nominees.

Why Nominate then?

Given that the rights of legal heirs supersede those of nominees, why should one nominate?

The primary advantage of nomination is that it allows for a smoother transition of assets, ensuring they are not left unattended during the interim period between the asset owner's demise and the legal heir's claim. Nominees can also help in reducing potential disputes among claimants by holding the assets in trust.

Conclusion: Legal Heir Trumps Nominee

While a nominee plays an essential role in managing the assets in the event of the asset owner's demise, it's clear that the nominee does not supersede the legal heir in the legal context. The rights of the legal heirs, as per succession laws in India, take precedence over the nominee's rights.

Still confused about the role of a nominee or a legal heir? Want to know more about how to draft a will, handle notarisation, or registration? Our team of legal experts is here to help. Reach out to us at +91 80692 32888, drop a WhatsApp message on +91 87644 47848, or write to us at Navigating the complexities of Indian inheritance laws shouldn't be daunting – let us guide you through this process.