Salman is a good boy. At least as far as adult children who are 43, with no job, wife, and prospects for any of these things go. His father, Bilal, loves him of course. He hopes for the best for him. Bilal has been retired for a few years now and is in his 70s. The parents tried to help out as much as they can, but Salman always had a knack for getting into hair-brained business deals with dodgy “friends,” borrowing cash from his parents, and losing it all.
Salman has been to jail a few times, nothing too big, but things related to drug distribution, an unfortunate bar fight and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, this disturbed his parents, but that was when he was in his 20s and 30s. Today, things are different. As the Bilal gets older (and Salman with them), he coming to rely on his son more. Salman starts to berate Bilal more, about things like not understanding technology. He wants to handle their banking and finances, but Bilal is reluctant. He is also kind of trapped.
Salman is Bilal’s son, their heir. In their old age, they may come to rely on him more and more. But by doing so, they may subject themselves to poverty in their old age, since Salman has never demonstrated any level of responsibility. Salman is many parent’s disappointment.
For many parents of adult children, the challenges can come in many forms. Remember, the Quran tells us that children and wealth are fitna. Things have always been this way.
Some other examples of problems with adult children:
- Daughter marries a greedy and manipulative person who routinely gaslights, is dishonest in business dealings and is not an especially great Muslim, from her parent’s perspective. She refuses to leave him and has started to become more distant from her parents because of their judgemental attitude about her marriage.
- Son who has serious substance abuse problems, and then married an enabler who finds ways to rob her of her own money. She refuses to divorce him.
- A 70-year-old man marries a 41-year-old woman his adult children think is trash [how dare they!] and only interested in money.
- Son won’t pray, fast and appears to support Donald Trump.
First, Don’t Make Things Worse
These problems are vastly different from each other. So if you started reading this article thinking I am pushing one solution that solves every issue, I am sorry to disappoint. For Muslims though, there are underlying principles that will guide every single resolution. Those principles will, however, will not steer you to the exact solution. They may tell you what the wrong choices are, but you have to dig deeper to get to the right answer. When you a bad situation in your family you need to suppress your desires and ensure that your actions are in keeping with your values and not merely your whims.
You don’t see yourself as the villain in your own story, and likely your child does not see themselves that way either. The parent has significant power to make things far worse than they already are.
Faisal has a son, Khalid, who is now 31 years old. Khalid has not spoken to Faisal in about seven years. Faisal has recently heard from friends that Khalid has been posting pictures of himself with various non-Muslim women in suggestive poses, often with what looks like alcohol. He wants to reach out to his son Khalid and ask him, point blank, “are you still a Muslim”? Faisal should not ask this question. Of course, if the situation between father and son is bad enough, Khalid may well say “no” just to be left alone. For Faisal, the question may be engineered to get a particular response, which would be justification for disinheriting Khalid, since non-Muslims do not have the right to inheritance in Islam.
While the result, disinheriting a son, maybe what Faisal wants, there is no doubt here that by asking the question, he has made things with his son worse.
The Islamic Rules of Inheritance don’t disappear because you want them to
When you have family problems, keeping with the Islamic Rules of Inheritance can be challenging. It is easy to think to yourself, “why should I,” or “it’s my money” or “my son does not deserve anything. Be careful here. You may be standing in a pool of your vanity. The point of the Islamic rules of inheritance is that this is not about what you want or don’t want. If you are a believing Muslim, you accept the shares of succession as they are is what Allah has ordained.
So you start from the premise that, unless the problem is that this person has left Islam, they will get their rights to inheritance. Otherwise, your defining act after you are gone is willful disobedience to what the Quran requires. If you are not a believing Muslim, this is not a problem. If you are, it’s a problem.
Finding Solutions for whom?
Depending on the particular family problem, you need to make sure your solution (1) does not violate the Islamic Rules of inheritance, (2) does exacerbate an already bad situation, and (3) it does not unduly frustrate people’s rights.
When you design a plan, we look to a solution for a problem the beneficiary either has or may have. What we don’t do, in general, is solve a problem for the person who is going to be dead when survivors implement this plan. Any planning consistent with Islam cannot be to massage a future dead person’s vanity.
The central part of my job as an Attorney is to be counsel. When it comes to Islamic Estate Planning, my goal is not just to administer whatever desires a client has- use estate planning documents as a way to punish “bad” children and “reward” good children. We do not use “dead hand control” for its own sake (though, so some degree, we may use some level of dead hand control when appropriate).
Solutions to many challenges
It is difficult to discuss solutions to problems that may be abstract. As it happens though, I have been writing about a wide range of challenges that Muslim families have in their estate planning for a few years now, and have practiced Estate Planning for many more than that. So I have a few ideas here when it comes to adult children.
The Adult Children who own a home with the parents
My main advice on this score is don’t ever co-own a home you live in with your children. My answer would be the same even if your child contributed to the house in some way. You can compensate them through a note or some other way. Owning a home with your children tends to cause more problems than they solve. I wrote an article on this you can read here.
I wrote about adopted children in Islam recently. There are particular challenges and rules associated with adopted children, who are NOT entitled to inherit in Islam. You can see my article on adoption here.
The Surviving Spouse and the Family Home
The family home is a significant issue that I am not exactly sure I have done justice to in writing about yet. It comes up in the Islamic Estate Planning book I co-authored and have written about it here as well. But the idea is that people want the surviving spouse to live in the family home. The family home is also most of the family’s wealth much of the time. Overpriced housing is mainly in coastal areas, but families everywhere deal with this. So the question is, how do you do it while also making sure you are not doing an injustice to your children? Also, how do you do it when the surviving spouse is not the children’s parent? You may not be able to do it justly, but it depends. Check out the article here.
Some family members are a bad fit to be guardians for your minor children.
I have written extensively about problems that come up with guardianship for minor children. Sometimes, adult children might be guardians for minor children. Sometimes they are not suitable for this role. To read more about that, click here.
Protecting Your Home
There is far more to write about here (and I hope to). But thinking through how you might protect your children and even yourself in the event of a lawsuit is one thing we routinely do in trusts. I wrote about this previously and if you are interested, take a look.
Protecting children, from themselves
Drafting to protect children from themselves is something I do a whole lot of- and it is tricky because Muslims have a right to inheritance. Issues can include things like special needs, substance abuse issues and a whole host of other reasons why just forking over cash to a child might be a bad idea. I have an article on protecting children from “fast money”– but hope to add to this in the future.
If you have any questions or comments about the article or if I can be of help, please let me know.