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Importance of Wills
According to Islamic law, a person that dies and leaves inheritance may apportion one-third of their estate as per their wishes, and the remaining two-thirds are distributed automatically according to pre-set inheritance laws (see the Rulings section of this website for more information on the Islamic laws relating to inheritance).
The estate that is inherited is known in Arabic as irth. In Muslim countries, the laws of inheritance are applied automatically to a person’s inheritance.
In non-Muslim societies that do not automatically recognise Islamic law, the vehicle used to provide instructions regarding the inheritance of a deceased person’s estate is known as a will.
The will is known in Arabic as wasiyyah. A will is required in non-Muslim countries to specify the wishes of the deceased because in these countries Islamic law is not automatically recognised.
On this website these two terms, ‘inheritance’ and ‘will’, have been used interchangeably for the ease of the lay-person reader, and because for the majority of the community at whom this website is aimed, will reside in non-Muslim countries.
Section 1: The importance of making a will
Prescribed for you, when death approaches any of you and he leaves behind any property, is that he make a will for his parents and relatives, in an honourable manner; an obligation on the God-wary. (Qur’an, 2:180)
In Islam, making a will is highly recommended (mustahabb) for everyone:
Prophet Muhammad: ‘A Muslim must not sleep a night without his will being beneath his head.’1
However, for some people it may become compulsory (wajib), bearing in mind the possible harmful consequences of not possessing a will at death, some of which are as follows:
It may so happen that the deceased failed to discharge certain religious obligations, and has not performed their qadha; for example, missed prayers and fasts, unpaid khums, unpaid loans, and suchlike. A will can specify such missed obligations and the family members can be instructed to ensure these are fulfilled after the person’s death.
Conclusion: without a will, the remaining religious obligations of the deceased may remain unfulfilled, thus causing the deceased distress in the Hereafter.
In some countries, the reality is that if a person’s wishes about their estate are unknown or are unclear, then the state authorities can intervene and take over the apportionment of that estate.
This means the authorities will appoint an executor, whose costs and fees will be paid for from the estate of the deceased. Furthermore, the process may be delayed due to bureaucracy, and could be probed for any legal and tax implications.
In an extreme situation, if a deceased has no clear inheritor or wishes, the state could receive the entire estate of the deceased.
Conclusion: Without a will, the door is left open for a non-Islamic authority to distribute the estate of the deceased according to its own framework.
People may believe that after their death their possessions will automatically pass on to their immediate spouse/children/family with no complications and everyone will receive what the deceased wanted them to. Or they may think that the Islamic laws of inheritance will automatically be applied to their estate. Whilst this is likely to happen in Muslim countries, in non-Muslim countries, unless they have made a will, there is no guarantee that this will happen.
Having a will ensures that the surviving family members are cared for, and will receive their rightful dues as laid down by Islamic law.
If a person is negligent and does not prepare a will in the knowledge that this may result in his family members not receiving their rightful dues, then this is a sin for which the deceased will be held accountable by Allah because they could have prepared a will to avoid this situation.
Furthermore, if a deceased person does not have a will, this could mean their wealth and assets remain frozen whilst things such as grant of probate, executors and other procedural matters are finalised. Therefore, the household members who may be immediately dependent upon the wealth of the deceased will not be able to withdraw any of the deceased’s money from the bank for any household maintenance. This could mean that some of the deceased’s dependants are deprived of essential financial security and possessions of particular sentimental value.
In addition to this, the deceased may want to leave some of their estate to members of their extended family who do not automatically inherit from the two-thirds. Unless they have made a will, there is no guarantee that this will happen.
Imam al-Baqir: ‘Whoever does not leave a will for those of his family who do not automatically inherit him, finishes his deeds with disobedience [to Allah].’2
Conclusion: Without a will, the security and wellbeing of remaining family members may suffer.
In Islam, having a will gives a person control over one-third of their estate. The deceased may wish to use this one-third to contribute to good causes, charities, or organisations3 that they want to support, or to friends and family. Even a person without any family should have a will, so that whatever estate they leave behind can pass to whomever they wish.
Conclusion: Without a will, it is possible that the wishes of the deceased would remain unfulfilled.
Prophet Muhammad: ‘The earth on the Day of Resurrection will be scorching, except for the shade covering a believer, for verily his charity will serve him as a shade.’4
Those good deeds we did that continue to help and benefit people will still earn us rewards after our death.
A person may feel that they would like to facilitate more such deeds after they pass away; if they make a will and specify this then it can be put into practice after their death, and will benefit them in the Hereafter.
Conclusion: Without a will, such wishes may not be known, or may not be honoured and fulfilled.
One of the most distressing sites that we sometimes see after a person’s death is the squabbling over the deceased’s wealth and possessions. It can often lead to break up of families, resentment, and cutting off family ties.
Conclusion: A clear will can help to avoid this sad situation.
A person that makes a clear will and carefully considers what will happen to their wealth after their death can spend their remaining days with the satisfaction that they have done all in their power to ensure a smooth distribution of their wealth afterwards, and can leave the rest to Allah.
Conclusion: A will can provide peace of mind and satisfaction that one has discharged their responsibility.
1Bihar al-Anwar, v.100, p. 194
2Tahdhib al-Ahkam, v.9, p. 174
3 In many countries, such donations are likely to have favourable tax implications.
4Al-Kafi, v.4, p. 3