What is a Will (Al-Wasiya)?
Fundamentally, your will is a record of your instructions on how you want your estate to be distributed after your death. It can also include some of your other wishes, for example, directions regarding your funeral rites.
Basic Features of a Will
There is no specific wording for a will, but it should have the following elements:
- It must be written in sound mental ability and health – it should not be verbal.
- It should have the declaration of Faith (Shahadah).
- It should command the survivors to do good and avoid sins.
- It should declare all liabilities and assets, including names and contact information for payment of liabilities and ownership of the assets.
- It should appoint executor(s) and arbitrator(s) of the will and guardian(s) of wealth and children.
- It should specify the legal heirs and their correct shares.
- It should bequeath part of the estate, i.e., naming beneficiaries and indicating the amount of estate to bequeath (up to one-third of the total).
- It must be signed, dated, notarized and signed by two witnesses in a manner provided by law.
- It is recommended to take the advice of a lawyer, tax consultant and Islamic scholar, while drafting the will.
The following points can also be added in your will:
- how you would like your funeral to be conducted;
- details of distribution of your personal items;
- desire to forgive debts, which others owe to you at the time of your death;
- details of distribution of one-third of your estate to whomever you wish to – this may include individuals not entitled to inherit under Islamic law.
Why a Will?
Leaving a will is a responsible act, which will ensure estate distribution to the rightful beneficiaries of your choice, thus safeguarding their interest and financial welfare. Without a will, your family, relatives and friends could face severe difficulties, disputes and bitterness. And, although you may not like it, if you don’t make a will, the law will decide for you, which may not be what you would have wished. A will not drafted according to Shariah requirements is Haram and its punishment is described by the following Quranic verses: “These are the limits (set by) Allah (or ordainments as regards law of inheritance), and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger will be admitted to Gardens under which river flows (in Paradise, to abide therein, and that will be the great success. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, and transgresses His limits, He will cast him into the Fire, to abide therein; and he shall have a disgraceful torment.” (An-Nisa 4:13-14)
Benefits of a Will
Protects the Rights: It ensures that our instructions regarding our family, children, wealth, property, assets, debts and our bodies are articulated and clearly understood. It helps in protecting the rights of our kids, our families and ourselves. We don’t want to die without giving someone their rights, nor do we want to die and not have our rights given to us.
Gives Peace of Mind: It ensures that your assets are distributed to your chosen beneficiaries in the manner you desire. Plus, it avoids unnecessary family disputes, which can occur if two people wish to receive the same personal items, investments or property. There are also situations in which the inheritance is not distributed properly among the rightful beneficiaries, causing distrust and discord. “Then whoever changes the bequest after hearing it, the sin shall be on those who make the change. Truly, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (Al-Baqarah 2:181)
Ensures Security of Children: Children, by legal definition, are your biological children. According to the Islamic law, legally adopted and step children are not included in this definition. If you wish them to be provided for, they need to be mentioned separately in the will. A will ensures that the future of all your loved ones is secured. If you have minor children, and you and your spouse die together, then the courts or elders may take the decision as to who looks after them, which might not be the person of your choice. By appointing legal guardians in your will, you can ensure that this doesn’t happen.
Makes Financial Sense: Making a will is a relatively straightforward decision. However, in spite of this, many people die without making one. This often causes delays, hardship and worry – and costly legal bills can result, if there is confusion and disagreement among those left behind.
Helps Less Fortunate: By leaving a gift in your will to a charitable cause, you can help not only the beneficiaries but also yourself. Sadaqah-e-Jariya (ongoing charity) is an action that continues to be rewarded after death.
Evidence from the Quran and Sunnah
“It is prescribed for you, when death approaches any of you, if he leaves wealth, that he makes a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable manners. (This is) a duty upon Al-Muttaqoon (the pious).” (Al-Baqarah 2:180)
The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “It is the duty of a Muslim, who has anything to bequeath, not to let two nights pass, without writing a will about it.” (Malik, Bukhari, Muslim and others)
“A man may do good deeds for seventy years, but if he acts unjustly when he leaves his last testament, the wickedness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Fire. If, on the other hand, a man acts wickedly for seventy years but is just in his last will and testament, the goodness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Garden.” (Ahmad and Ibn Majah)
Other Quranic verses that contain guidance regarding inheritance are: Al-Baqarah 2:240; An-Nisa 4:7-9, 11, 19, 33; Al-Maidah 5:106-108.
When to Make a Will?
It is important that you make a will preferably after attainting the age of eighteen. Making a will is particularly important, if you are anticipating marriage, having a child, getting divorced or getting remarried. Also, do make a will before starting a business, leaving for Hajj, buying property, acquiring assets or making investments. It is recommended that you review and update your will every five years. Changes that should trigger a review of your will include any changes in your financial, marital, health or emotional circumstances. If you draw up a new will, you will need to destroy the old one, so as to avoid confusion in the future.
In short, it is a duty of every Muslim to make a will, and it should not to be neglected because life and death has no guarantees. Life is short. Today, we are here. Tomorrow, we may be gone. Imagine the distress that is caused to the widow or children, or leaving a near and dear destitute by not clarifying your will and by not doing it according to Shariah requirements. It would spare your family from uncertainties, disputes, bitterness and family breakdowns afterwards, as is the case with so many families today.