Thursday | 23 September 2021 | 16 Safar 1443
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Fatwa Answer

Question ID: 1240 Category: Dealings and Transactions
Inheritance Questions

Assalamu Alaikum,

I am writing to ask a few questions regarding Islamic inheritance rules and would appreciate your advice/fatwas on them.  May Allah reward you handsomely for the service you provide to the Muslim Ummah.

We are an older Muslim couple trying to do our wills in a way that is pleasing to Allah (swt).  Alhumdillilah, Allah blessed us with assets in real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, and 401(k) accounts.  We are in a unique situation where I (the husband) converted to Islam in later life and have no relatives who are Muslim.  (I have 3 siblings, 3 sons, and 6 grandchildren, all of whom are non-Muslim.)  My wife (born Muslim) has a daughter who practiced Islam as a child Islam but, as an adult, stopped practicing and married a Christian man.  She had 2 children by him; 4 and 6 years old who are being raised in a church daycare.  It is not certain if they will follow Christianity or fwill not follow any religion at all when they grow up.  My wife’s daughter states that she does not believe in “organized religion.”  However, she still refuses to eat pork!?!

Question 1.   We have named each other as the beneficiary for our 401 (k) accounts. By secular law, when one of us dies, the other gets the account. Is that OK by the Islamic inheritance laws?   Are the 401(k) assets considered part of our “estate” for calculating the 1/3 and 2/3 fractions and individual shares Islamically?

Question 2.  Some of our real estate, vehicle, and bank accounts are jointly owned “with right of survivorship;” i.e., they will automatically become the property of the surviving spouse by secular law, without being part of our nominal will.  Is this OK by the Islamic inheritance laws?

Question 3.  My wife has a sister who left Islam, and an overseas brother with family who may be considered “Muslim” because they were born into a Muslim family, but they do not practice at all.  My wife and her brother are not in a good relationship due to the brother cheating my wife out of her inheritance from her parents.  It’s certain that he will not assume any responsibility for my wife (his sister) in the event that I die before my wife.  She will be on her own, taking care of all her own finances.  No one in her family will help her financially or otherwise.

The questions are (a) Should the brother who has never prayed or fasted be considered a valid Muslim heir regardless of his lack of relationship with Allah or his sister? And (b) if not, and if my wife survives me, she would have no Muslim heirs.   What guidance should we follow for distributing the 2/3 of the estate that would normally go to Muslim heirs?  (We support several charities while living and would be naturally inclined to give the estate to them.)

بسم اللہ الرحمن الرحیم

الجواب وباللہ التوفیق

  1. There is no Islamic ruling for nominating anyone. After the death of a person, all his property will be distributed as inheritance. If there is a Will at the time of nomination, the Will becomes invalid for the heirs. But for non-heirs, the Will will be fulfilled with one-third of the deceased total wealth.
  2. Under the 401K plan, the amount of money deducted from the employee’s salary, which is paid back to the employee upon his  retirement is permissible to take. Any  additional amount given on top of the original amount is considered a gift and donation from the employer and hence is also permissible to take.The total 401K will be distributed as inheritance as well.
     
    It is not right to take an optional retirement plan. If the received money is more than the amount deposited into the plan, then that additional amount should be taken away and given in charity.
  3. Although the belongings of the deceased person legally become the property of others, but they are legally an inheritance. It is therefore obligatory to distribute inheritance to all the present heirs.

As far as your relative is concerned, the issue of declaring someone a “kafir” is a very delicate issue.Therefore, he cannot be called a non-Muslims because of the omission of outward or apparent actions, such as fasting and prayers, unless his disbelief or belief in Islam is proven.

It is clear that no one knows when someone will die. Therefore, the distribution of wealth of the deceased must be made from the point of view of the heirs present at the time of death and after obtaining the Shariah ruling on the rules of inheretance from a competent religious authority in your area.

If you have no other relationship with your spouse's brother; he will not be entitled to your inheritance after your death. But he will be entitled to the inheritance of your wife if he is present at the time of your wife's death.

If you both intend to donate money to charity after your death, it will fall into the category of a Will, which will be fulfilled out of only one-third (1/3rd) of the total wealth of the deceased, while the remaining two-thirds (2/3rds) will be distributed among the heirs. 

As a philanthropist, you can dedicate in charity as much as you wish, during your lifetime, but be careful not to run out of money and end up seeking assistance from others.

It should also be noted that only Muslims are entitled to a Muslim’s inheritance. if an heir, God forbid, leaves the fold of Islam, then he/ she will not be entitled to inheritance.

فقط واللہ اعلم بالصواب