Inheritance of grandparents

Grandfather

Call to mind that paternal grandfather is the one that inherits. Maternal grandfather is a non-heir. In the absence of a deceased’s father, his/her grandfather replaces the father. If the grandfather is also absent great-grandfather takes the place of the father. In his absence also, the great-great-grandfather if alive (but I wonder if he will) “jumps down” and inherits from the deceased. Though according to Imam Malik, only two levels of grandparents are entitled to inherit i.e. grandfather and great-grandfather, so great-great-grandfather and his ascendants are non-heirs. But the difference of opinion here is insignificant since the probability that great-great-grandfather will inherit is very minimal because first, he has to be alive; and secondly, father, grandfather and great-grandfather all have to be absent. Consequently being considered as an heir or non-heir practically makes no difference. Hence, like father, the grandfather

  1. Inherits the whole estate if he is the only heir.
  2. Receives 1/6 in the presence of son(s), male descendant(s) or a combination of son(s) and daughter(s), male descendant(s) and daughter(s) or male and female descendant(s).
  3. Gets 1/6 + residue in the presence of daughter(s), female descendant(s) or a combination of the two.

Recall that father totally excludes full and consanguine brothers/sisters (rules 17 & 18) but grandfather do not have the ability to do that according to the more popular view held by Jurists. Therefore in this context, there are two possibilities:

I. Grandfather inheriting along with full or consanguine brothers/sisters only,

i.e. they are the only heirs, no other heir is present. Here, grandfather has two choices.

a) 1/3 of the estate.
b) Muqasama (sharing).

This means that he shares the estate together with full or consanguine brothers/sisters as if he were one of them. Thus, he will be considered as a full brother in the presence of full brothers, full sisters or a combination of full brothers and sisters. Likewise, he will be counted as a consanguine brother if consanguine brothers, consanguine sisters or a combination of consanguine brothers and consanguine sisters are inheriting. In a situation whereby a combination of full(s) and consanguine(s) are inheriting which is only possible when the deceased leaves behind one full sister and one or more consanguine sisters, grandfather acts as a full brother.

Grandfather has the free will to choose between these two options. And naturally, he is expected to pick the one that gives him a larger share of the estate depending on the circumstance. Details here.

II. Inheritance of grandfather along with full or consanguine brothers/sisters in the presence of other heirs.

These “other heirs” must not include father, son(s) or male descendant(s) because father excludes both grandfather on one hand as well as full and consanguine brothers/sisters on the other while son(s) and male descendant(s) exclude full and consanguine brothers/sisters. In this scenario, grandfather has three options:

a) 1/6 of the whole estate.
b) 1/3 of the residue (after other heirs have received their shares).
c) Muqasama (sharing).

He picks whichever is the most favourable to him. Notice that uterine brothers and sisters do not inherit together with grandfather because he excludes them (rule 19).

Grandmother

In the absence of mother, either grandmother i.e. paternal, maternal or both takes her place and inherit from the deceased. As a result,

  1. Paternal grandmother gets 1/6 of the estate in the presence or absence of other heirs.
  2. Maternal grandmother receives 1/6 of the estate in the presence or absence of other heirs.
  3. Both paternal and maternal grandmothers share 1/6 equally in the presence or absence of other heirs.

Let’s shed more light on 1 and 2 above. When paternal grandmother is the only surviving heir, she gets 1/6 of the estate. She receives the same share (1/6) in the presence of other heirs which must not include maternal grandmother, otherwise they are to share the 1/6 equally (3 above). Likewise if maternal grandmother is the only heir, she is given 1/6 of the estate. When she is inheriting along with other heirs not including paternal grandmother, she receives the same 1/6. Consider the table below:

Class 1Class 2Class 3
MotherFather
Level 1Mat GM (a)Pat GM (d)Pat GF
Level 2Mat GGM (b)Pat GGM (e)Pat GGM (g)
Level 3Mat GGGM (c)Pat GGGM (f)Pat GGGM (h)

Where Mat = Maternal
Pat = Paternal
GM = Grandmother
GF = Grandfather
GGM = Great-grandmother
GGGM = Great-great-grandmother

Using the table to expand rules 1, 2 and 3 above, when BOTH level 1 grandmothers are absent, a single surviving level 2 grandmother is given 1/6 of the estate. Two level 2 grandmothers share 1/6 equally and supposing the 3 of them are present, they still share 1/6 equally. Similarly, in the absence of all levels 1 and 2 grandmothers, one surviving level 3 grandmother inherits 1/6. Two of them share 1/6 equally and if all 3 are alive, they are given 1/6 to share in equal proportions.

As stated earlier, Imam Malik believes that only two levels of grandparents are rightful heirs, thus according to him, level 3 grandmothers will not inherit, but this is contrary to the opinion of most Jurists who did not specify a limit to the level of ascendants. Secondly, Malik considers paternal great-grandmother through paternal grandfather (i.e. g) as a non-heir. This also conflicts with the view of eminent companions like Zaid ibn Thabit, ‘Abdullahi ibn ‘Abbas and Jurists of later times including Abu Hanifa. Nevertheless, examining the two opinions, we may conclude that practically the divergence is negligible given that it is quite rare to see level 2 grandmothers inherit from a deceased not to talk of level 3 grandmothers. To illustrate this, how many of us grew up to see our great-grandmothers alive? And what is the probability that she will still be alive to witness our death considering that our mothers and grandmothers have earlier passed on which will enable her to take the place of our mothers and inherit from us? Maybe zero point zero zero zero something (0.000…), an insignificant figure. Therefore it is quite irrelevant whether paternal great-grandmother(s) and level 3 grandmothers are listed among rightful heirs or not.

The general principle of exclusion is that heirs closer to the deceased exclude those that are farther. That is why a son excludes grandson and mother excludes grandmother for example. Now, among the grandmothers the same principle applies. This brings us to…

Rule 22(a): A nearer grandmother excludes a farther grandmother ON EITHER SIDE.

Supposing in level 1 paternal grandmother passes on before the deceased, the surviving maternal grandmother in level 1 will exclude all grandmothers (both paternal and maternal) in level 2. That is what is meant by “either side.” Hence she receives 1/6 of the estate. Similarly, in the absence of maternal grandmother, paternal grandmother will do the same. This is the opinion of Imams Abu Hanifa and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

Rule 22(b): A nearer maternal grandmother excludes farther grandmothers on either side but a paternal grandmother DOES NOT exclude a farther maternal grandmother.

This is the view of Imams Malik and As-Shafi’i. So as explained above, in the absence of paternal grandmother, her maternal counterpart in the same level will exclude both maternal and paternal grandmothers at a higher level, thus she gets 1/6 of the estate. The difference here is that if maternal grandmother in level 1 is absent, paternal grandmother in level 1 (d) will exclude her own mother (e) but cannot exclude maternal grandmother in level 2 (b). As a result, they (d and b) will share 1/6 equally. This is the limit according to Malik because level 3 grandmothers are non-heirs. But if we are to continue, assuming both level 1 grandmothers and maternal grandmother in level 2 are absent, the two paternal grandmothers in level 2 (e and g) will exclude their mothers (f and h) but will not exclude level 3 maternal grandmother (c) if she is alive. Thus the three of them (e, g and c) will share 1/6 equally.


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