Procedure of solving inheritance problems

1. Determine the “actual” heirs.

Not all the 15 male and 9 female heirs will inherit from a deceased. Definitely, some will be excluded by others. As a result, the first task is to know who excludes who. Supposing a woman is survived by her husband, 2 daughters, 4 granddaughters, a full sister, 3 consanguine brothers, 2 full uncles, 5 full uncle’s sons and a full uncle’s daughter; only her husband, 2 daughters and full sister are her “actual” heirs. Why? First, the full uncle’s daughter is a non-heir. Husband and daughters are basic heirs. They cannot be excluded. But since the daughters are two, they will exclude granddaughters, then full sister will inherit as a “residuary by another,” in which case, she acquires the rights and privileges of a full brother and as we said earlier, “she excludes whomsoever he excludes,” i.e. consanguine brothers, full uncles and their sons who are equally members of alpha (but below him in hierarchy).

2. Spell out the share of each heir.

Here, the rules of partial exclusion come to play. The husband is relegated from ½ to ¼ by the daughters, likewise they make full sister to get residue (if any) as opposed to ½ of the estate if they were absent, yet their share of 2/3 remains intact. We can see how influential children are.

3. Determine the base number.

Now, consider the shares at hand. In this example, ¼, 2/3 and residue. We ask a simple question: what whole number is there whose one-quarter and two-third are both whole numbers? Of course, there are so many of them. So our job is to find out the least or minimum of them all. If we randomly choose 20,

¼ × 20 = 5       2/3 × 20 = 13.33

Because 2/3 of 20 is not a whole number, 20 is not a solution. Let’s take 24.

¼ × 24 = 6       2/3 × 24 = 16

It seems 24 is what we are looking for. But is it the minimum? No, actually the minimum base number for this problem is 12. Thus,

¼ × 12 = 3       2/3 × 12 = 8

How did we know that it’s 12? In other words, how do we determine the most appropriate base number without trial and error? There are standard rules for that which we shall be looking at shortly.

4. Generate the portion of EACH heir.

This is done by simply multiplying the base number by the share of each heir. We have already started it in step 3 above. Therefore,

Husband receives 12 × ¼ = 3 portions
2 daughters get 12 × 2/3 = 8 portions
Full sister is given the residue which is 1 portion. That is, deduct 3 and 8 from 12, the reminder is 1 [12 – 3 – 8 = 1 or 12 – (3 + 8) = 1].

What we have done is to ascertain the number of portions each CATEGORY of heir is entitled to; whereas the step requires us to find out the number of portions EACH heir will receive. This is quite easy. When a category consists of only one heir, he/she is given all the portions assigned to that category. Hence, husband being the only one in his category takes all the 3 portions allocated to his category. Similarly, full sister inherits the one portion assigned to her category.

But when a category has more than one heir, we divide the number of portions that category is entitled to by the number of heads of heirs in it so as to know how many portions each person gets. This means that since both daughters make a category, we have to determine how many portions go to daughter ‘A’ and how many daughter ‘B’ will receive. Their number of heads is 2. Consequently,

8 portions ÷ 2 heads = 4 portions/head

Accordingly, each daughter is given 4 portions. So the deceased’s estate is divided into 12 portions. Husband gets 3, each daughter inherits 4 and full sister receives the remaining 1. As simple as that!

Now, what happens if a category is made up of male and female heirs who are to distribute a share among themselves such as sons and daughters? Let’s answer the question using this quick example. A man dies leaving behind a wife, 3 sons and a daughter, how will his estate be shared among them?

Henceforth, we shall not bother ourselves mentioning ALL the relatives or heirs a deceased leaves behind. Only the “actual” heirs will be stated. Our assumption is that any heir not mentioned is either absent or have been excluded by at least one of those under consideration. In this instance, the man may actually have uncles, brothers, sisters, aunts, grandchildren and so on. But his children especially the sons have excluded all of them. Observe that son cannot exclude father and mother. Since they were not listed among the heirs, we suppose that they died before him, i.e. they are absent.

Step 2: The wife should have received ¼ of the estate but the children will partially exclude her to 1/8. Again we assume that by now, the reader is conversant with the rules of partial exclusion. So we shall not be stating how we arrive at the shares of each heir. Anyway, the 3 sons and daughter will share the residue in a ratio of 2 to 2 to 2 to 1 respectively.

Step 3: The base number is 8. How we got this? Details shortly.

Step 4: Mother receives 8 × 1/8 = 1 portion

Children are given the remaining 7 portions (8 – 1 = 7).
Number of heads of 3 boys and 1 daughter = 7
Therefore, 7 portions ÷ 7 heads = 1 portion/head

Recall that males have “2 heads” while females have 1. Hence,
Son ‘A’: 2 heads × 1 portion/head = 2 portions
Son ‘B’: 2 heads × 1 portion/head = 2 portions
Son ‘C’: 2 heads × 1 portion/head = 2 portions
Daughter: 1 head × 1 portion/head = 1 portion

The same principle applies when we have combination of grandson(s) and granddaughter(s), full brother(s) and full sister(s), consanguine brother(s) and consanguine sister(s), etc.

Sometimes, the heirs that make up a category CANNOT share their portion of the estate because:

  1. It is NOT ENOUGH to go round, or
  2. After all heirs have received their portions, there is an EXTRA which will not be sufficient to go round.

For example, if 2 sons and 3 daughters are to share 6 portions of an estate,
Each son is to get 2 portions = 4 portions
Each daughter is entitled to 1 portion = 3 portions
Total number of portions required = 7, which is the same as their number of heads.

It is clear that the children cannot share 6 portions because if we go ahead, we will run into fractions or numbers with decimals which is not acceptable in inheritance. And as long as we want to stick with whole numbers, someone will be short-changed; either one of the daughters gets nothing or one of the sons is given 1 portion instead of 2. This is also not allowed EVEN IF the heirs by consensus accepts it or one of the heirs agrees to receive less or nothing. Remember that inheritance distribution is an act of worship and has to be done according to the dictates of Shari’ah.

Similarly, if the 2 sons and 3 daughters were to share 10 portions of the estate, all the children will get their complete portions but there will be extra 3 which will not go round. Had it been the extra were 7, they will redistribute it again among themselves so that each son will receive 4 portions (original 2 plus extra 2 redistributed), while each daughter gets 2.

In both instances (i.e. when number of portions is not enough or when there is an extra), the four steps enumerated above are insufficient. Additional steps are required to obtain a new base number. This brings us to the LEVELS OF INHERITANCE PROBLEMS.
Level 1: All categories of heirs are able to share their portions of the estate.
Level 2: One or two categories of heirs cannot share their portions of the estate.
Level 3: More than two categories of heirs cannot share their portions of the estate.

All inheritance problems will necessary fall within these three levels. The beauty of it is that each level has distinct rules regarding how to obtain the base number. So, if one is able to determine what level a problem belongs to, the next thing is simply to apply the appropriate rule(s) and the portion of each heir will emerge.

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Your Questions, Our Answers

We have received a number of emails from those who visited this website or downloaded and read INHERITANCE IN ISLAM. Almost all of them were questions on either aspects of inheritance not covered in the book or clarifications needed regarding specific cases. Hence, we thought it wise to reproduce the emails so that others may benefit as well. As always, we welcome suggestions, criticisms and of course, more questions!

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