Coming back from the Texas Dawa Convention, where I had the privilege of addressing a main session for 90 minutes on Islamic Inheritance, I mentioned the best Estate Planning advice I can give does not have anything to do with Islamic Inheritance, getting a lawyer or even directly related to Estate Planning at all. It is simple: Mary wisely.
Conflict is inevitable in any society or when any group of people gets together. They are unavoidable in marriage, in nuclear and extended families and organizations. What distinguishes a person’s character and the character of the community is not that conflicts happen, but rather how you deal with the conflict.
Some people are abnormally high conflict, which may be unpleasant but is not the worst thing in the world if the high conflict person has otherwise good character. Very high conflict people can often maintain stable marriages and consistent relationships with children. Families can mend conflicts, which need not disintegrate over them. You almost never find a family where nobody disagrees about anything. If that is your family, you are probably in a toxic situation. More than likely though, no such family exists.
You cannot control who your parents or your children are. However, from my observations, the bulk of family disputes that end up in Probate Court tend to happen because of marriage. There are two places where this happens:
1) A divorced or widowed parent gets remarried.
2) A child grows up and gets married.
Of course, in the abstract (and not in in the abstract for most) both are good things and necessary for society. However, that does not mean they cannot be structured to cause problems, in fact, mixed with children, they often do. We know this from the Quran as well:
O you who have believed, indeed, among your wives and your children are enemies to you, so beware of them. But if you pardon and overlook and forgive – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.
Take the following situations.
Scenario 1: Habib is a widower with 4 children, two daughters, and two sons, all over the age of 25. He decides to marry Farhana, who has three children of her own, all under the age of 9. Habib’s children start to notice Habib is lavishing attention on Farhana’s children while seeming to ignore his children and grandchildren. There are family functions they hear about that neither Farhana, who apparently controls Habib’s social calendar, or Habib invited them to any of these events. Within a year or two Habib’s children appear to notice they don’t hear from their father at all, and when they call, it is usually Farhana who answers and says Habib is not available to speak. If they want to invite Habib, he is often not available and if he does come, he starts to be filtered through his new wife. Then he stops coming completely. Eventually, most of Habib’s children, owing to the discomfort they have in dealing with Habib’s new family, give up. They stop calling or even trying to visit or extend an invitation. They no longer see any point.
Certain family relationships are bound to change over time. However, there is also the feeling many people have that a new wife is alienating one family to favor the new family. If this is not bad enough, often this results in large gifts and a changed estate plan that benefits the new wife and her family.
Scenario 2: Salah marries Sultana, both are 22. They live in Salah’s father for the first few years of marriage. The father, Haroon a 65 years old widower with Salah as his only son. Haroon gets the idea to give part of his home to Salah, so that it is his home as well. Salah, because he has a job, is paying a lot of the expenses for the household.
After a conflict between Sultana and Haroon 6 years later, Salah decides that it would be best if his father Haroon no longer lives in the house. Haroon is now forced into a nursing home and rarely ever gets visited.
Can Estate Planning be done to prevent these situations from happening? Yes, to a degree this is possible. However, what is happening here is not just a failure of estate planning, but a failure of relationships. Islam is not merely about documents and having the right ones, but rather about maintaining rights. This includes the bonds of kinship, described in several places in the Quran. That we don’t cut off family ties is so basic to Muslims, that even when Muslims do it you cannot help but notice that people are ashamed of doing it.
Now I do not have any scientific evidence of how families tend to break apart. However, I can offer some observations from what I have seen, which you can take as you will. Most everyone thinks the best of their children. Yes, many parents are a little bit disappointed with their children because they place their own dreams on them, but still, they think the best. Many Muslim parents also tend to believe they have instilled some values in them that would enable them to trust their children with their wealth, their home and their lives (in the case of making healthcare decisions for example). However, the variable that often changes this is who they marry.
This similar dynamic happens when there is marriage later in life. Marriage can result in isolation from the pre-existing family. Maintaining family ties must be a priority for both spouses. If it is not, it won’t happen. This will lead to tragic results.
To get our report on 6 mistakes Muslims make in their Estate Planning, click here.