As a Muslim, you must distribute your wealth after you die according to the sharia (Islamic law). In a lot of Muslim countries, the laws of intestacy (i.e. the laws that apply when you die without a will) are derived from the sharia, so that’s great for residents of these countries. Even if they don’t have a will, they will be adhering to their Islamic obligation.

However if you’re in the UK (or other non-Muslim countries), then having a will is a must. This is because if you die without one, your assets will be distributed according to domestic law, not Islamic law.

The complexity lies in the fact that you when you make a will, you need to have a will that complies with both English law (or whichever local law applies in your country) and Islamic law in order for it to be both valid in your country and Islamic.

Why Islam emphasises leaving a will

Islam has a big emphasis on exiting this world in the best possible way. The Prophet famously visited the deathbed of a number of people, including his own uncle Abu Talib, in order to encourage them to accept Islam. The Prophet also said: “If a person’s last words are Laa ilaaha ill-Allaah, Paradise will be guaranteed for him.” (Ahmad/Abu Dawud).

How our inheritance is handled is the last impactful legacy we can leave on this world. We should therefore really should make sure it is done in a way pleasing to Allah.

The Prophet said “It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to will to stay for two nights without having his last will and testament written and kept ready with him.” (Bukhari).

What is an Islamic will?

A will is a legally-binding document that gives instructions on the way that your estate (the assets you leave behind) should be distributed. In a conventional, non-Islamic will, you simply leave what you want to whomever you want. That’s why you get stories like this or this with people leaving all their money to charity or even pets.

Islam tells us something different. It pre-determines who inherits our assets (read the early verses of Surah an-Nisa (chapter 4) for the verses on this). Although these calculations can get tricky for the average person to manually work out, the point is that there is a set way of slicing up the pie to which we have to adhere.

This Islamic will inheritance calculator will help to give you an understanding on how Islamic inheritance works (this is a great online tool but it can be prone to error so always get it manually checked by somebody qualified).

In a nutshell, the pre-set inheritance is the key difference in an Islamic will.

And in a non-Muslim country, you need to leave a will that sets all of that out in detail, because domestic laws will otherwise revert to the laws of intestacy, not the laws of Islam. As long you as you detail how you want your assets to be distributed, English law (and likely other domestic law) will not interfere with that.

Wills usually include sections on:

  1. Your funeral and burial wishes;
  2. Who will be in charge for administering your estate and sorting things out;
  3. Who should look after your children if you and your spouse die;
  4. Who gets specific gifts and what they are; and
  5. Any charitable donations you wish to make.

There are a few legal peculiarities to signing a will validly in the UK. Your signature should be witnessed by two individuals (who are not going to inherit anything from your will), any bequests (explained below) you make need to be carefully drafted or they can otherwise be invalid, and your will should expressly deal with any previous wills you might have written and are now wishing to change.

Can you change the inheritors in an Islamic will?

As we’ve established, Islam has rules on who inherits your assets. However, you can actually change that (and that’s perfectly fine). Let’s do a test case so you fully understand the position on why you might want to do this, before we explain how you go about doing this Islamically.

Let’s say we’ve got a man named Hussain. Hussain has a wife, two sons and both his parents are still alive. Islamically, his inheritors would be as follows:

  1. Wife – 12.5%
  2. Son 1 – 27.08%
  3. Son 2 – 27.08%
  4. Father – 16.67%
  5. Mother – 16.67%

It’s easy to see why Hussain might want more provision for his wife. In order to do this, he could get written consent for his parents to assign their share over to his wife. Provided that this consent is given freely, then this is fine. You then simply draft the will such that the parents are not included, and the wife’s share is increased proportionately.

It’s important to ensure you document this correctly from a domestic law and Islamic law perspective so, again, make sure you speak to someone qualified.

The other even simpler way of inheritance planning, is to transfer over assets to whomever you want to before you die. That way, they already own the asset when you die. And, under current UK tax laws, as long as you live more than 7 years from when you make a gift to someone, the recipient of this gift will not have to pay any inheritance tax (40% at the moment) on your gift when you die. But if you die before 7 years have passed, there may be tax to pay (calculated on a sliding scale. See here for a nice little summary of key tax issues.

What are bequests?

We’ve explained that under Islamic law, your estate gets divided up in a certain way. We’ve also gone through how you change that (provided consent is given from the relevant inheritors).

But an Islamic will differs in one other crucial respect.

Islam gives you the flexibility to do pretty much what you want up to a maximum of 1/3 of your estate. So the Islamic rules about who gets what that we talked about before can apply to all your assets if you want them to, but you can also have them only apply to 2/3 of your estate. You then choose to do whatever you want (subject to the rules below) with the remaining 1/3.

This flexibility over 1/3 is known as a bequest.

The rules of a bequest

The rules are quite simple.

  1. What you leave must be specific (e.g. a car, a necklace, 1/3 of my assets to X charity);
  2. What you leave must be, in aggregate, a maximum of 1/3 of your entire estate. So if your estate is worth £200,000 and you left a necklace, a car, and gold coin which were collectively worth £10,000 (i.e. 5% of your estate) then that is fine.

Adherents to certain schools of thought (e.g. some hanafis) like to leave a certain portion of their wealth as a kaffarah (compensation/penalty payment) for missed fasts and prayers. This needs to be carefully drafted. If that’s you, then you should really get someone to write your will and not do it yourself – but more on that later.

Why bother making a will?

If Islam sets out the rules anyway, what is the point making a will? Quite apart from the religious reasons given in the introduction, making a will makes sense from a legal, practical and commercial perspective. Here’s just a few reasons for you to make a will:

  1. You can avoid major family disputes by creating a legally binding will that specifies how your estate should be distributed.
  2. You can save your inheritors literally thousands in extra legal, court, and inheritance tax payments (£9,700 is the average cost of dying without a will according to mainstream will-writer Farewill).
  3. You can save your inheritors and executors a lot of time, stress, hassle and worry by clearly laying out who is an executor, who is your children’s guardian, and who gets what. You might think that your wife or your husband is going to sort things out for you, but what if a family member starts disputing that after you’re gone? Clarity is always best.
  4. You don’t want to leave something like the guardianship of your children to the family courts – who may decide in favour of someone you wouldn’t be happy with.
  5. If you are not legally married to your spouse (for example, if you’ve only done a nikah), then writing a will ensures your spouse will actually inherit something. It will also ensure that your spouse gets a share of your family home – which she will not otherwise under the laws of intestacy.
  6. If you have step-children, foster children, or other dependents who are not blood relations, they will not automatically inherit anything without a will.
  7. It’s a useful exercise in itself for you to reflect properly on death. It also means you’re forced into action from an administrative point of view. How will your executor ever find that random bank account you opened where you’ve still got £200 in?

What are your will options in the UK?

We have trawled the internet and our contacts so you don’t have to.

Best free options

There are two free good Islamic options that you can avail of:

  1. Free Islamic Wills
  2. 1st Ethical

Here are the relative pros and cons of going for this approach.

ProsCons
FreeYour will isn’t checked – this is fine a lot of the time, but a significant number of times, it is not.
Quick - 30 minutesYou don’t get a bespoke breakdown of your sharia inheritors and have to DIY it using a calculator – this is not fool-proof, requires a bit of understanding of the sharia rules, and can lead to the same disputes you were seeking to avoid by doing a will in the first place!
The 1st Ethical version has been reviewed by lawyers and scholars and signed off Your specific bequests may not be drafted correctly so as to be valid – this happens often in our experience
The Free Islamic Wills version has been reviewed and signed off by a scholarThe Free Islamic Wills version comes with an inheritance schedule to help your executor work out the Islamic inheritance. However it is extremely dense and counterintuitive
If your estate is well within the Nil-Rate Band (£325,000) then you don’t need to worry about tax planning. In most cases, using the spousal exemption and the additional residential nil-rate band, you can pass on up to £1m to your family tax-free these days.The Free Islamic Wills online platform is not intuitive and can be a bit clunky
Can’t deal with large estates that need tax planning
Can’t deal effectively with estates that leave business assets
Can’t effectively deal with foreign assets
If things change you need to write a new will
Don’t have the ability to deal with leaving assets to disabled children (as it needs advice on trusts)

Best value option

IFG Wills

Here are the relative pros and cons of going for this approach.

ProsCons
Cheap - £98Can’t deal with large estates that need tax planning
Quick - 30 minutesCan’t deal effectively with estates that leave extensive business assets
Will is drafted and checked by lawyers - see our profiles here: About Don’t provide a probate service - but we can point you in the right direction
IFG call you if we have any questions, and IFG are happy to response to your questionsDon’t provide a professional executor/trustee service - but we can refer you
The sharia inheritance is reviewed and signed off by a muftiDon’t provide a hotline to call up with your queries - but we are responsive by email
The ability to leave loved ones messagesDon’t have the ability to deal with leaving assets to disabled children (as it needs advice on trusts)
The ability to easily leave charitable bequests
If your estate is well within the Nil-Rate Band (£325,000) then you don’t need to worry about tax planning.
Very intuitive form that makes the journey to a will easy
If your estate is well within the Nil-Rate Band (£325,000) then you don’t need to worry about tax planning. In most cases, using the spousal exemption and the additional residential nil-rate band, you can pass on up to £1m to your family tax-free these days.
If things change , you can subscribe to our annual £10 update service and we’ll make all the necessary updates

Best premium option

iWills Solicitors is the most established Islamic wills solicitor in the UK currently, however there are others that you can easily google.

Here are the relative pros and cons of going for this approach.

ProsCons
Bespoke legal adviceExpensive – ranging from a few hundred into the thousands
Can deal with large estates (>£1m) that need tax planningLegal appointments and meeting with solicitors necessary
Can deal with estates comprising extensive business assetsNot every solicitor will check every will with a mufti or even provide a breakdown of your inheritance
You can often call them up and get some legal advice The process isn’t designed to be frictionless or personal.
Offer a probate service – make all the relevant applications to the relevant people for a few hundred pounds extra
Offer a professional executor/trustee service - this is where solicitors generally tend to make the profit, as the fee is a percentage of the overall estate, so can add up to thousands – but for a larger estate that might make sense

Which option should I go for?

Well it depends.

Firstly, “inheritance tax planning” is often used by solicitors to invite people to make a will. The reality is only 4% of estates actually pay inheritance tax, so most estates don’t actually need that much tax planning. Secondly, trusts that are created by wills cost money to run and administrate. They shouldn’t be created unnecessarily.

So our view is that only three types of people should use a more expensive, sit-down appointment solicitor:

  1. You are wealthy (e.g. leaving over a million)
  2. You have extensive overseas assets
  3. You have unique requirements that require bespoke assistance (e.g. a disabled child)

In each of these cases it would make sense to pay a bit more, as you’ll end up making significant savings as a result.

For everyone else (the 96%), there is either the option of a free will, or an IFG Will. A free will makes sense for 2 types of people:

  1. People with extremely simple wills – e.g. they are single, not leaving any bequests, don’t have children and don’t have very many assets (for example, when I was a student, I used a free will to draft my will)
  2. People with legal training, who are confident on the legal formalities to attend to, and their drafting of any specific bequests

Then there’s IFG Wills.

We designed IFG Wills because we noted that most people (60%) don’t have a will – and they should have one – both religiously and for practical reasons. But most people didn’t have a will because, lets face it, hiring a solicitor is a pain. And most people feel a bit daunted by the idea of doing a DIY will.

So we created an experience that brings together the best of both worlds. You get the legal expertise and bespoke review and sign-off of a solicitor, and the stay-at-home comfort and speed of a free online will.

But we want to be genuinely neutral/impartial here. That’s why we’ve linked all the options from our “competitors” (we don’t really see them that way, and we don’t get any payment from them).

You can easily try out the free will options, and get started on your IFG Will process (it is essentially filling out a clever form) very quickly and before paying -and that’ll help make up your mind more than anything.

Conclusion

We genuinely think IFG Wills is the best option for the vast majority of Muslims in the UK, but not ideal for a minority (as outlined above). Whatever you choose, you should get your will done. We’d also be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve gone through the whole process yourself – anything other people should watch out for or be aware of?

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