Published On: 9 October, 2023

Authored By: Akshada Khapre
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur



Inheritance tax, also known as an estate tax or death duty in some countries, is a tax imposed on the transfer of wealth from a deceased individual to their heirs or beneficiaries. This tax is typically levied on the total value of the deceased person’s estate, including assets such as property, cash, investments, and personal belongings.

Here are some key points to understand about inheritance tax:

Taxable Event: Inheritance tax is triggered by the death of the individual who owned the assets. It is the responsibility of the deceased person’s estate to pay the tax.

Rates: The tax rates for inheritance tax can vary widely from one country or jurisdiction to another. They are usually progressive, meaning that the rate increases as the value of the estate increases. Rates may also differ based on the relationship between the deceased and the heir (e.g., spouse, child, non-relative).

Exemptions and Deductions: Certain assets or portions of the estate may be exempt from inheritance tax, such as the family home or agricultural property in some cases. Additionally, there may be deductions or allowances for certain expenses related to the estate, like funeral expenses or debts of the deceased.

Gifts and Lifetime Transfers: Some countries have rules that tax gifts or transfers of assets made during an individual’s lifetime. These rules are designed to prevent people from avoiding inheritance tax by giving away their assets before they die.

Estate Planning: People often engage in estate planning to minimize the impact of inheritance tax on their heirs. This may involve setting up trusts, making lifetime gifts within tax-free limits, and drafting wills to distribute assets strategically.

Legal and Financial Advice: Given the complexity of inheritance tax laws, individuals and families often seek legal and financial advice to ensure they comply with the tax regulations and maximize their tax planning opportunities.


Direct Taxes: Direct taxes are taxes levied directly on individuals or entities based on their income, profits, or assets. The primary direct taxes in India include:

  • Income Tax: The income earned by people, companies, and other entities is subject to this tax. It is calculated based on the individual’s or entity’s income, which may include salaries, business profits, interest, and other sources of income.
  • Corporate Tax: This tax is levied on the profits earned by companies and corporations.
  • Wealth Tax (Abolished): India had a wealth tax, which was levied on individuals based on their net wealth (assets minus liabilities). However, it was abolished in 2015.

Indirect Taxes: Indirect taxes are taxes levied on the consumption of goods and services. These taxes are typically passed on to the end consumer and include:

  • Goods and Services Tax (GST): A comprehensive indirect tax on the provision of goods and services, GST is imposed. It has replaced multiple state and central taxes, creating a unified tax system across India.
  • Customs Duty: This tax is imposed on the import and export of goods. It is collected at customs checkpoints.


Direct Taxes: These are paid directly by individuals or entities to the government. They are progressive, meaning that the tax rate increases with the income or wealth of the taxpayer. Examples include income tax, corporate tax, and wealth tax (when it was in existence).

Indirect Taxes: These are paid indirectly by consumers when they purchase goods or services. Indirect taxes are regressive, as they tend to affect all consumers regardless of their income level. Examples include GST and customs duty.


The legal framework for inheritance and taxation in India is complex and varies based on several factors, including the type of assets involved, the religious or personal laws of the individual, and the relationship between the deceased and the heir. Here’s an overview of the relevant legal provisions related to inheritance and taxation in India:

Personal Laws and Religion:

In India, inheritance laws are not uniform but instead depend on an individual’s religion. Different religious communities follow their laws related to inheritance. The major personal laws in India are:

  • Hindu Succession Act: This law governs the inheritance and succession of property among Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains. The 2005 amendment to this Act brought significant changes by granting daughters equal rights as sons in ancestral property.
  • Muslim Personal Law: Inheritance among Muslims is governed by the Muslim Personal Law, which includes the Shariat. Under this law, heirs are categorized into sharers and residuary, and the distribution of assets depends on these categories.
  • Christian Law: Christians in India are governed by the Indian Succession Act, of 1925, which provides for the rules of inheritance among Christians.
  • Parsi Law: Parsis follow their laws for inheritance, which are covered under the Parsi Succession Act, of 1865.
  • Sikh Law: Sikhs, who are also covered by the Hindu Succession Act, have specific customs and practices that may influence inheritance.

Income Tax:

Income from Inherited Assets: Income tax is levied on the income generated from inherited assets, such as rental income from inherited property or interest income from inherited investments. This income is added to the individual’s total taxable income and taxed at the applicable income tax rates.

Exemptions and Deductions: There may be exemptions or deductions available under the Income Tax Act, such as deductions for property taxes and home loan interest on inherited property.


  1. Digitalization and Enhanced Enforcement:

The Indian government has been actively working on digitalizing tax administration and increasing tax compliance. Future developments in this area could involve better tracking and reporting of inherited assets to ensure that individuals and families comply with tax obligations.

  1. Harmonization with Global Norms:

India may consider aligning its inheritance tax laws with global norms and practices, especially concerning the taxation of cross-border inheritances and assets. This could involve cooperation with other countries to prevent tax evasion and ensure fair taxation of inherited assets.


India does not have a specific inheritance tax. Instead, the taxation of inherited assets in India is governed by various provisions of the Income Tax Act, the Capital Gains Tax Act, and the Gift Tax Act. This absence of a dedicated inheritance tax has several implications.

Firstly, it leads to complexity and inconsistency in the taxation of inherited assets. The tax treatment can vary based on factors like the nature of the asset, its holding period, and the relationship between the deceased and the heir. Additionally, the variability in inheritance laws based on religion results in unequal treatment of heirs from different religious communities.

However, this absence of an inheritance tax also provides individuals with opportunities for tax planning to minimize the tax impact on inherited assets. Strategies such as trusts, wills, and other legal structures can be employed to manage and distribute assets in a tax-efficient manner.

In summary, while India currently lacks a specific inheritance tax, the taxation of inherited assets is subject to various existing tax laws. Individuals and policymakers should stay informed about potential changes in tax regulations and consider consulting with tax professionals or legal experts to navigate the complex landscape of inheritance taxation in India.

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