Inheritance: Rules ensuring a nearest male beneficiary

Q277 :A married couple who have five daughters, but no son, are confused about how their property should be divided in order to ensure that their children are the only beneficiaries. As the things stand, some portion of their property will automatically go to their nephews. Is there any way to avoid that? These parents do not wish to give anything to their nephews. Could you please explain what they can do.

A277 : One should give these parents at least the credit for being frank about their purpose. They are not unique in wishing to ensure that their property will go only to their children, but many people try to give matters a false appearance. Be that as it may, we have here the purpose stated honestly. It is not unusual for parents to wish to give everything they have, after they had died, to their children. People normally work hard in their lifetime in order to ensure a comfortable living for themselves and for their children. When they die, they wish their children to have an equally comfortable life. Therefore, they dislike the idea that their property should be shared by other relatives who, close as they may be, can never be at the same level with their children. But if people would reflect a little, they will realize that the division God has made in the elaborate system of inheritance, that He has laid down, will eventually work to their children's advantage. Let us take the example of this particular family. There is no doubt that at least some of those five daughters are still young. If their parents die, when they have not yet grown up or been married and settled down, who will look after them? In an Islamic society, their next of kin are responsible for their upbringing, education and indeed for their living, if they are poor. If the father of those five daughters dies, and he has a brother, who is the paternal uncle of the girls, then that uncle will have to look after them. In an Islamic society you will find numerous examples of uncles taking care of the children of their deceased brothers and sisters. You must have come across a family where a brother marries his deceased brother's widow in order to ensure that his young children are properly treated. The family would not hear of the young mother marrying into a different family, lest the children are not properly or well brought up. Even if that does not happen, still the young children are properly looked after by their father's relatives. There is a rule in Islam which applies to the system of inheritance as well as to other aspects of life. That rule states that "gain is commensurate with responsibility." If we expect an uncle to look after his nieces, then it is only fair that this uncle should receive some gain, or at least be entitled to it, in certain circumstances. Thus, the Islamic system of inheritance assigns a certain portion of the estate to the male next of kin, when the deceased has no son, because it is likely that the next of kin will be called upon to provide some care to the daughters of his deceased relative. Some people may say that those relatives who are indeed next of kin and who would benefit by their inheritance are not the type to fulfill such a responsibility, either because they have too many responsibilities of their own or because they do not care about even their own children. This may be so, but to start with, this is the exception, not the rule. In an Islamic society, the sense of loyalty and responsibility is sharpened, because it is linked to the desire to earn God's pleasure. Therefore, when a good Muslim finds himself responsible for young children whose father has died, he will happily undertake that responsibility, even though he might not have been on good terms with his deceased relative. Moreover, when he realizes that a portion of that relative's estate has fallen to him, he will feel better aware of his responsibility. He is certain to realize that the benefit he has gained is commensurate with the responsibility he must shoulder. Besides, why do people fret over something that is quite trivial in real terms? Let us look at this case properly. The worst that could happen is that the father dies first. In this case, his wife will inherit one eighth of his property and two thirds of this whole property will be divided equally among his five daughters. The remainder will go to the nearest male relative. This of course assumes that the father does not have either his parents alive at the moment when he dies. If either of his parents is alive, then that parent will inherit one sixth of his property which leaves only an insignificant amount to any other relative. If the man's father is alive, he will get that portion as well. Still, if neither of his parents is alive, and he is survived by his wife and five daughters, then his property is divided into twenty-four shares; with three going to his widow and sixteen to be shared out equally by his five daughters. The remainder, which is five out of twenty four shares, i.e. just over twenty percent, goes to his brothers and sisters, if he has any, or to his nephew; if he has not. If the mother dies first, then her property is divided into twelve portions; with three going to her husband and eight to be shared equally among his five daughters. That leaves only one share out of twelve to the nearest male relative of the mother. This is again assuming that neither of her parents survives her. In this case, what goes to her relatives is less than ten percent. As you realize, the amount that is likely to go to such relatives is very small, and perhaps insignificant. However, it ensures that should the daughters of these parents need to be looked after by their relatives, those relatives are there to provide the care needed. If those parents were to deny these relative what God has assigned to them, then that is likely to entail that those relatives will not feel their obligation toward those daughters and will not be ready to give any assistance to them, should the need arise. My advice to these parents is to leave matters as they are, because the benefit, indeed all the benefit, is in implementing God's law as He has laid it down. Having said that, I feel that I should add that it is open to those parents to divide their property now among their daughters, provided that this division is real, which means that they willingly make gifts of their property to their daughters in order to make them the owners of whatever they give them. If they wish to do so, no one can stop them, but they will be required to maintain justice among their five daughters, giving each one the same as the rest.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )