I continue to be amazed with the utility and brilliance of the Islamic Rules of inheritance. Yes, it is an old system. Yet, it has long been recognized as the best-developed system of inheritance in the world. I am an Attorney that represents clients in Estate Litigation matters. That is to say inheritance disputes. I also do estate planning based on the Islamic Rules of Inheritance. So I sometimes think of disputes with a view towards looking at if Islamic Inheritance, if it was relevant in the case would have helped avoid the conflict. It would usually avoid a conflict completely. It may not help when there is some sort of abuse or oppression involved that has nothing to do with the actual shares of distribution.
Islamic Inheritance can fix unforeseen problems. Many people do “I love you” estate plans. That is to say the surviving spouse gets everything. In general, these types of plans are not allowed in Islam. The husband gets between either ½ or ¼ while the wife gets either ¼ or 1/8. There are reasons why these numbers might be different, but we don’t really need to get into that right now.
Here is a problem I did not think of before. A man dies from a car accident. He wants to give everything to his wife. Years later, his wife dies. After she dies, the man’s wrongful death lawsuit results in a $300,000 payment. The estate goes to the man’s siblings. This makes sense, because the wife is dead.
Here is the conflict: The wife had children of her own. They are completely unrelated to the deceased man. They want the money instead. They argue that if the wife were alive, the wrongful death settlement would have gone to her. And if she died without spending any of it, it would have gone to them. Since the inheritance did not come into fruition until after both the husband and wife died, the siblings figured they should get the inheritance.
Amazingly now, the law in Michigan (where this case is happening) is not clear on what is supposed to happen here. Should completely unrelated people get absolutely everything? Should it be the people who are related?
Why should this be so hard? There are no rights and no real underlying principles of what is justice and what is not. When you don’t have these things, administering justice can be a real pain.
Everyone needs to make this decision for him or herself, regardless of faith tradition. Is there an underlying system of ethics that governs what you are supposed to do? If so, the answer is pretty easy.
Check out our report on 6 mistakes Muslims make in their living trust.