Zakah: Family arrangements of a 'house-zakah' liability

Q722 :A few years ago I bought a house and registered it in my wife's name for the simple reason that I want her to be independent when I die. As we are living in Saudi Arabia, I have made arrangements to let it. I paid about about 60 percent of the rental on renovation, repairs and other maintenance work. I also paid about 25 percent in taxes and zakah. What I would like to know is whether I must treat this house as a gift to my wife and let her have its rental, or should I continue with the present arrangement. There is no argument between us on this subject, and I wish to know my obligations as defined by Islam.

A722 : What we have to realize when it comes to an arrangement like this is that Islamic duties apply to a man and his wife separately. Either of them may be liable to zakah or may be exempt from it on the basis of how much each of them owns and whether either of them has more than the threshold of zakah or not. There may be a great deal of difference in how much you have to pay out in zakah if you consider this house to be your own, although it is registered in your wife's name. In this case, you have to add the rental to your other possessions and pay zakah for the full amount. On the other hand, if you consider it to be your wife's property, she may be liable to pay zakah and the rental may not exceed the threshold below which no zakah is payable. If both of you are liable to pay zakah, there will be no difference in the amount you will have to pay at the end. I am sure, however, that this is not your main consideration, but I am pointing it out for the benefit of other readers. I realize that relations between man and wife may be so close to allow each of them to look at what is owned by the other as joint property. That should not make them lose sight of the fact that they should discharge their Islamic duties as individuals. Therefore, when it comes to the payment of zakah, each of them has to assess his or her liability on the basis of what each of them own. If we were to suppose that this house you have mentioned was inherited by your wife at the death of one of her relatives, and you have done all the arrangements you have mentioned, the zakah payable on its rental should be calculated on the basis of what your wife owns. Since the case is as you have described, only you and your wife can determine who of you should receive the rental and pay the zakah. As far as your arrangements are concerned, there is no question that they are valid. Many a thoughtful husband take similar steps to ensure that his wife continues to enjoy decent and respectable living after his death. Many a wife and a mother will find herself in a very difficult position if she has to work in order to earn her living, after her husband has died. She may be unable to work after having spent most of her life looking after her family. However, when it comes to arrangements of this sort, family considerations may take precedence over legal ones. Your actions so far have been those of a person making every decision on how to utilize a piece of property of his own. That is all right if it is agreed between yourself and your wife. Since you have made her the gift already and you have told her that the house is, from the moment of purchase, her own, then that is how it should remain. The rental is hers. She may be willing to let you have it all and spend it the way you like, since you will be looking after your family. But then you must not forget that what you get of rental is hers. On the other hand, it may be understood between your wife and yourself that the house will be hers after your death, but for all practical purposes it remains yours as long as you are alive. In that case, you are treading on slippery grounds. What is the difference between this arrangement and that of assigning the house by will to your wife? For practical purposes, there is no difference. You should not forget that you cannot do that in Islam. Your wife is entitled to have a fixed share of what you leave behind. If you have children, she receives one eighth of your property, after the payment of any debts you may have outstanding and the execution of any will you may have made. If you have no children, she inherits one quarter. You cannot add to that share this house of yours. If you truly mean the house to be hers, then she should be the one to receive the rental. After that, she may, at her own free will, make a gift of the whole of part of that rental to you. She may spend it on the family, if she so desires. What is important is to show that we are serious when it comes to financial transactions so that everyone knows his or her rights and obligations. You cannot just tell your wife, " I am giving you this house, " and then treat it for all intents and purposes as your own. That sort of attitude should come as the result of a decision made freely by your wife. She may tell you that she is making a certain gift to you which may be the rental of the house of its usage. But this has to be her own free decision. If she decides to make such a gift to you, you may benefit by it as you like. Whatever you and your wife decide in this case, you have to treat every step seriously and take your decisions wisely. It is wrong to take things for granted and behave as if you can make her a nominal gift and continue to treat it as your own.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )