The Director of National Intelligence released Bin Laden’s last will and testament from the raid on his hideout in Pakistan. You may want to see it for yourself here. For a variety of reasons, this last will and testament makes no sense. The headline, that there was millions in there for “Jihad”- is clear enough. How he had millions of dollars or had the ability to posthumously move them around, nobody has explained.
Unless the government released his last will and testament (or other copies were out there), those with access to his funds would have no way of knowing how they were to be distributed. Since the funds were supposed to be distributed for criminal activity, it seems inadvisable that the government releases this document. However I am a California Estate Planning Attorney and not in the “intelligence community” in Northern Virginia, so maybe I am missing something there.
In Islam, bin Laden’s professed faith tradition, the last will and testament completely ignores the fact that the Quran exists as the word of Allah and that shares of inheritance are ordained. This is actually a fundamental fact: Muslims don’t get to decide what children to benefit and what children to ignore after they die. Of course, he would not have been the first professed Muslim to make this mistake. He had family, spouses and children, according this Wikipedia article about the subject.
It is widely accepted in Islam that the wasiyyah, the portion of the estate that is mostly discretionary, cannot be more than 1/3 of an estate. The rest is distributed based on the fara’id, the mandatory shares of inheritance, which comes from the Quran in Surah Nisa (the fourth chapter). Inheritance is ordained in the Quran, and not doing it in a manner that conforms to the Islamic Rules of Inheritance has the specific punishment of hellfire. That specific verse is 4:14, keep in mind as you read it 4:11-14 are all about inheritance.
In general though, countries with laws based on the Islamic Rules of Inheritance would only care about what your wishes were when it came to 1/3 of your estate. In the United States, you can generally have a completely unjust estate plan and courts will often respect it.
There are no known cases of any country where bin Laden purportedly had wealth where the courts distributed it to family members. His personal wealth, whatever governments knew about, was seized years ago, for example there was this report of $2000.00 that he had in a Peshawar bank account.
The last will and testament seems to say is that it is a wish that his brothers and sisters respect that the funds be spent for his causes. So the plan may just be that brothers and sisters respect his wishes by voluntarily writing checks themselves from funds they may have on his behalf. But again, we have a problem. His brothers and sisters and maternal aunt are not his heirs in Islam. They should not have access to his funds to the exclusion of the rightful heirs. Given that he has several children and wives, these other relatives get nothing at all. They should not have the right to spend other people’s money just because a dead person told them to.
Of course, before assets can be distributed to anyone at all, debts must be settled. Seeing as he unjustly killed many people, the families may have claims.
This is not really a valid will, at least not in the Islamic tradition. There is no executor (someone named to carry out these instructions) and no witnesses and the shares violate the Sharia. It would be appropriate for an Islamic Court anywhere in the world or throughout time to throw it out. At this point though, the document is nothing more than a prop in the endless and tragic war on terror.
If you are a Muslim and want to learn more about doing Islamic Inheritance right and not make horrible mistakes (like bin Laden), check out my free guide on 6 mistakes Muslims make in their Living Trust.