Do You Know What You Own?
At first glance, this may seem an absurd question. However, this is a serious issue which is generally brushed under the carpet and has serious consequences in this world and the hereafter. Whilst you may think you know the answer to this question, read on and ask yourself whether you really know what you own.
- Ask yourself
- Who owns the house you live in? What about your second house? Do you own it or your spouse? Or is it jointly owned, and if so, in what proportion?
- Who owns the money in the joint bank account and in what proportion?
- Who owns the car(s) you and your family use?
- Who owns the mobile phones and the computers in your house?
- Who owns the household utensils and furniture?
- Why is it important to know?
- The ambiguity in a deceased person’s wealth impacts on the amount of inheritance heirs will be entitled to.
For example, if a wife dies whilst her parents are alive, and she owns half the house, the wife’s parents will inherit a proportion of the house along with the other heirs. The husband cannot claim ownership of the whole house. Therefore, if the ownership of the wife’s share was not clarified or is unclear, this could lead to disputes and result in the inheritance not being distributed properly.
A ḥadīth states, “Whosoever deprives [a person] from the inheritance Allah has fixed, Allah will deprive him from his share of paradise” (Sunan Saʿīd ibn Manṣūr, 285; Shuʿab al-Imān, 7594)
- The ambiguity in a deceased person’s wealth impacts on the amount of wealth a person is entitled to under a will.
For example, if a deceased person allocated 1/3rd of his wealth to a friend, the proportion cannot be calculated if the deceased person’s wealth is ambiguous.
- The ambiguity in a person’s wealth could lead to disputes between inheritors or between the husband and the wife at the time of separation.
For example, if the husband divorces the wife, and the ownership of the house was not clarified, the wife may claim ownership of half the house whilst the husband may claim ownership of the whole house.
- The deceased person is responsible for the ambiguity and any disputes arising as a result.
- It is also important to know what you own to ensure you calculate your Zakah accurately.
- So, why is this not discussed?
- Ownership may not be discussed within families to avoid contemplating separation or death.
- There is often an implied or explicit understanding that if either spouse dies, the other will take ownership of all the assets.
This is contrary to Islamic teachings. Whilst a person is entitled to gift a proportion or all of the assets whilst alive, Islam has specified the shares of inheritance for heirs including for spouses after a person’s death. Therefore, spouses are entitled to a proportion of each other’s assets but not all the assets.
A person is only allowed to specify up to a third of the wealth for non-inheritors, for example, distant relatives or charitable purposes. However, as spouses are inheritors, it is not permissible to allocate any proportion of the wealth for them in a will or otherwise, and if one does so, this part of the will shall be void. Our Prophet ﷺ said: “Verily, Allah has given every person with a right his due, so there is no bequest for an inheritor (Sunan Abū Dāwūd, 2870; Sunan al-Tirmidhī,2120).
- A key reason for not clarifying ownership is a catch 22 situation.
On the one hand, a husband may feel that the wife should have some form of accommodation after his death. Thus, the husband gifts half of the house to the wife. This results in the wife retaining ownership of half the house after the husband’s death and also inheriting a proportion from the other half. This offers a level of security, although according to Islam, family members are responsible to provide accommodation for the wife.
On the other hand, the husband may think about the implications in the scenario of separation or the wife dying first. In the former, the wife will retain ownership of half of the house, whilst in the latter the wife’s heirs will inherit from half of the house. This could include the wife’s parents if they are alive. As an heir, the husband will also inherit a share from half the house but not all of it.
Everyone has the right to dispose of their wealth as they deem appropriate; however, you cannot have it both ways. Either a person retains total ownership or makes a gift whilst s/he is alive (a ‘genuine’ gift, such that if a separation was to occur, the spouse would retain ownership of the gift).
- What action do you need to take?
- This is a serious issue which should be understood properly and not underestimated.
- The first step is that you need to identify all your assets, monetary or otherwise, and write these down. Do not forget to include everything especially minor items as inheritance laws apply to all items. You will be responsible for this if you have not clarified this. In addition to your assets, you should also write down loaned and borrowed items.
- This may require discussion with family members which may prove to be difficult. However, these difficult conversations are better to have sooner than later. If required, consult with expert scholars.
- Remember, ownership is not necessarily determined by the names on the deeds or the names on the bank account although this may assist to determine the nature and proportion of the ownership.
- Writing a will is necessary to remove possible ambiguities after death and should include a range of issues. There are many organisations and templates available to assist with drafting wills.
- It is important that your will clarifies what you own particularly in relation to your key assets that could result in disputes. Your will should also clarify, where there is shared ownership of assets, your co-owners and the proportion of ownership.
- Your will should also outline the steps to be undertaken immediately after death. Without going into much detail, for example, in relation to the payment of bills and the use of electricity and other household items that you own and need to be sorted out prior to wider use.
- Speak with your local scholar and understand the rules of Islamic wills, inheritance and associated issues.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Verily, a man and woman act in obedience to Allah for sixty years, then when death approaches them, they cause injury by their will, so they must go to Hell” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī, 2117; Sunan Abū Dāwūd, 2867)
The Prophet ﷺ said: “It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequest not to let two nights pass without having a will written by him” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 2738)
- Ask yourself this question
If you die now, have you left all the necessary information in one document that clarifies what you own, leaves no ambiguity for the heirs and leaves no room for dispute? If not, act now.
To download this article as a poster, click on this link.