Dialogue on writing a will
My father started today’s session with a hadith from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq,
“Leaving a will is a (religious) duty; the Prophet (s.a.w.) had done so, and so
* Yet, some people do not write wills under the false impression and
pessimism that their death has drawn nigh.
- Making a will is a commendable act (mustahab); it is widely believed to
prolong life. Conversely, leaving out the making of a will is makrouh and not a
good thing to do.
After all, isn’t death inevitable?
* Yes, and rightly so. Allah, the Exalted says in His Holy Book, “Every
soul shall taste of death ...” (3/185).
- If this was the case, why should any one of us try to evade the
We have to be practical and get ready for that which will befall us all,
whether we lived a long or a short life.
* How should I go about making a will?
- It is mustahab you start your will with the du’a (supplication, or
invocation) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) taught Imam Ali (a.s.).
* What does it say?
- My father stood up, went to his library and came back with a book entitled
“Al-Wasaa’il”. He read out the text of the supplication.
I was writing what he dictated to me. It reads thus:
”O Lord! Originator of the heavens and the earth, the Only Source of
knowledge of the unseen and the seen, the All-compassionate, the All-merciful.
O Lord! I bear witness that there is no god but You, that You have no
associates, and that Mohammad is your servant and messenger. That paradise,
hell, resurrection, reckoning, destiny, and justice are true. That religion is
as You described, Islam as You made plain, the word as You narrated, The Qur’an
as You stated. That You are God - The Glaring Truth.
May Allah reward Mohammad with the best recompense. May He bless Mohammad
and his Progeny and grant them peace.
O Lord! You are my refuge at times of fear, my ally at times of trouble, and
the Giver of my boon. My God and the God of my ancestors! Do not make me rely
on my soul, for if You do, it will tempt me to incline to that which is evil,
and allure me to abandon that which is good. Make my loneliness in the grave
friendlier. And make me a pledge that I return to You with the best
After this introduction, the person can state his will.
* What are the matters that could be included in a will?
- Things like a) taking care of one’s offspring, especially the minors among
them, and the rest of his family, b) to be kind to his kindred, c) to pay his
debts, if any, and d) releasing deposits in his trust. He could leave in his
estate the amount of expenses that shall arise from paying for people who shall
carry out certain obligations he did not perform in his lifetime, such as
prayer, fasting, hajj, and paying out any amounts of khums and zakat that are
outstanding. He could state that the poor be fed, and make out payments of
sadaqah in his memory. He could ask for certain things to be done after his
departure. In short he could ask for the implementation of anything he
However, it is important to note that there are certain conditions that
should be met by the person making the will. These are, they should be adult,
sane, of a full legal age, hence the will of the incompetent (safeeh) shall not
be in order. Nor shall be the will of a person who was coerced into making the
requirement in the will. The will of the boy who is under ten years of age,
provided the provisions of his will were in the sphere of what is good and for
the benefit of his immediate family and relatives.
At the time of making the will, the testator should not be resigned to taking
his own life. In such a case, his instructions as to his estate shall, for
example, be limited to that which relates to matters and expenses arising from
his funeral and his children who are under-age.
The executor cannot appoint another person to carry out the will. He could,
however, authorize a trustworthy person to handle any particular matter of the
will, if the testator did not specify that the executor should attend to that
particular matter himself.
* Is it conditional that the will be written?
- No, any person can make a will verbally or by expressing any meaningful
gesture. It suffices, too, for a will to be deemed as such, if there was any
paper, bearing the signature, seal, or finger print, of the mandator, suggesting
that he intended it to be executed after his death.
* Should any one of us make his will at the time of illness only?
- No, not only in sickness, in health too.
* You said earlier that one can cater for any thing he wished. Am I
- Yes, provided it should not be outside the pale of what is lawful and
* Could any one of us make a will, stating that all his estate, for example,
be spent in a certain avenue?
- No, the will must be confined to one third of the entire estate.
* Should there be a person, who exceeded that limit, what shall be the
ruling in this case?
- The will should be declared void and null, unless the heirs sanction the
* If the heirs agreed, how should they go about executing the will?
- That which should be set aside of the estate be: a) any outstanding debt,
b) religious dues, c) compensations, and d) reserve money for any religious
obligations that were not carried out during the lifetime of the deceased.
Obligations such as hajj, prayer, fasting etc, should be performed on his
behalf, irrespective of whether or not he made provisions in his will to cater
That is, if the deceased did not specify that it should be taken out from his
share of one third, in which case it must be taken out of it.
The remainder must be divided into three shares.
One third must be set aside to meet the provisions made by the testator and
two thirds for his inheritors.
* Should provisions, made by the testator in his will, like paying a named
person a specific amount of money, or granting them a property or a plot of
land, and other ones pertaining to his funeral, for example, be acted upon?
- The testator has the right to make such provisions and the executors of
his will should be bound by that, provided the cost did not exceed one third of
* Parts of the estate of the deceased person could sustain damage at the
hands of the executor of his will. Should the latter be held responsible?
- The executor cannot be made to pay for the damage, provided that there was
no negligence or malice on his part.
However, making a will is mustahab as long as death was imminent, in which
case attending to certain things as a matter of priority becomes wajib; among
these are the following:
1. Settling one’s debt, especially those that have become due, if one was
able to do so.
As for a) the debt whose date of repayment was not due, b) that which was
due but was not yet demanded by the creditors to pay, or c) that which he did
not have the means to pay back, he should make a will to that effect before
witnesses, if it was not common knowledge.
2. Releasing deposits in his safekeeping to their owners, notifying the
owners, or making a provision to return them.
3. Settling unpaid khums, zakat, and madhalim (Material or moral
restitution, or reparation, to people you have wronged), if you were liable and
could afford payment.
4. Hiring a person, for money paid from his own property, to say obligatory
prayers or perform hajj on his behalf. Even if he was not financially able to
hire someone, and a volunteer came forward to carry such obligations out for
him, making a provision in the will to this effect becomes wajib. In certain
cases, however, informing a trusted person, such as the eldest son, to cater for
meeting his obligations vis-a-vis prayer and hajj would suffice.
5. Advising his heirs of any money, property, or otherwise he has with
other people, that they do not know of, so that their right in such dues would
be preserved after his death.
* If a person did not make a will, what would happen to his estate?
- He shall forgo his right in having disposal over one third of his estate
in the way he may have wished.
* How would his estate be divided?
- It be divided according to certain formula, that we will discuss in the
next dialogue on inheritance.