The Shariah laws of wills and estate are by Divine Order. We do not have any discretion in that. Furthermore, wills and estates are one of those issues of Shariah where a person’s Abdiyyat (servitude) is really challenged and tested. It is human nature to be materialistically inclined.
A person works so hard to build his empire. He sacrifices his day and night and makes them one to earn his empire. His heart, soul and mind are in his wealth. Man wants to dispense his wealth as he wants but Shariah orders him to dispense his wealth as Shariah wants. It is a clash between an individual’s desire and the order of Shariah. The attitude of an obedient slave of Allah will be that whatever is in my possession belongs to Allah. It does not belong to me. It is only in my trust and custody. I have to channel it as Allah wants me to.
The issue of wills and estates is such an order that it has to be done correctly in one’s lifetime. If he does not do it correctly, it will be a sin that occurs after the death of a person. Now, the person cannot make Tawbah. Therefore, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it must be done correctly.
It has been reported from Jabir radiyallāhu ‘anhu that Rasulullah salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam said, “Whoever passed away having left behind a Wasiyah has passed away upon the Sunnah and the right path. He has passed away with piety as a martyr and he has passed away in whilst being forgiven.” (Mishkaatul Masabih vol.2 pg.926; Maktabul al Islami)
Four stage execution of Estate
- Burial expenses
- Payment of debts
- Execution of bequests
- Paying heirs
What is included in the estate?
Whatever the deceased owned in his lifetime with a valid ownership according to Shariah will form part of his estate. That includes personal clothing, watches, glasses, rings, properties, businesses, vehicles etc. All of his possessions will form his estate on condition his wealth is recognized in Shariah. If one owns something that is Haram (like interest money) it will not form part of the estate.
What is excluded from the estate?
Haram wealth, Rahn or collateral, Insurances and endowment policies will all be excluded from the estate.
- All burial expenses are direct expenses of the estate.
- It is not compulsory upon the trustees of the estate to accept outside assistance for burial expenses if all the heirs are adults. If some heirs are minors then too they are not bound to accept assistance if they don’t use the shares of the minors.
- The expenses must be moderate. If the trustees were excessive in the burial expenses, they will have to compensate the estate for the excess amount.
- Feeding the deceased’s family etc does not form part of the burial expenses. If the expense for feeding was paid from the estate, the trustees will have to pay that amount to the estate.
Wasiyah is another expression of the mercy of Allah Ta’ala just before a person dies. Allah has promised a lofty position for people who give charity. Rasulullah salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam has stated, “When a person dies, all of his actions cease except three, namely, continuous charity, beneficial knowledge or a pious child who prays for him.”
Paying of Debts:
A Hadith highlighting the importance of paying debts; It has been reported from Muhammad bin Abdillah bin Jahsh that he said, “We were sitting in the courtyard of the Musjid where the Janazas used to be placed and Rasulullah salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam was sitting amongst us when he suddenly lifted his gaze towards the sky staring. Thereafter, he turned his gaze and placed his hand upon his forehead stating, ‘Subhanallah, Subhanallah, what severity has descended!’ We remained silent for that day and night but we only witnessed tranquility until the morning.” Muhammad (the narrator) then stated, “Thus I asked Rasulullah salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam, ‘What is the severity that descended?’ He salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam said, ‘In regards to debt. By the Being in whose grasp lies the life of Muhammad salallāhu ῾alayhi wasallam, if a person is martyred in the path of Allah and then brought back to life and martyred in the path of Allah and then brought back to life and martyred again in the path of Allah and then brought back to life and he had a debt upon him, he will not enter Jannah until he repays his debt!”
Abu Hurairah radiallahu anhu narrates that Rasulullah salallahu alayhi wasallam said, “Do you know who a pauper is?” The people stated, “A pauper is such a person who does not own a Dirham nor any other wealth.” He salallahu alayhi wasallam then said, “Verily the pauper of my Ummah will be one who will come on the day of Judgement will a lot of Salah and fasts and Zakah to his name. However, he swore such and such a person, slandered so and so, usurped the wealth of so and so, shed the blood of such and such person and he hit another person. Thus so and so will claim from his good deeds and the other person will also claim from his good deeds. If his good deeds come to an end before he is able to pay back all that he owes, then he will be burdened with the sins of the others which will be placed upon him and thereafter he will be hurled into the fire.”
As Muslims we believe in death, life after death and accountability in the court of Allah. One day we will die and give account of our actions to Allah. It is mentioned in a Hadith that a person’s feet will not move from the court of Allah until he answers some questions. One question will be, “How did you earn your wealth and where did you dispose of it?” This part of the Hadith also covers correctly preparing our wills and estates.