If your close friend told you two months ago that there will be a virus that will affect the whole world; a virus that would cause thousands to die and millions to suffer; a virus that will cause a global lockdown, only allowing you to leave your home for essentials, you would think that your friend had gone mad.
And yet here we are, facing a crisis nobody expected. You may know people who passed away due to this virus. Death has never seemed so real. Previously, death was thought of as something that may occur many years in the future, and yet here we are – staring death in the face.
Just as we blame the government for not doing more to plan for COVID-19, will you be blamed by your loved ones for not preparing their lives after you have gone? We have short and long-term plans for our careers; we back up our computers and we service our cars, but how many of us have thought about steps our families need to take in the event of our demise?
Although planning can sometimes be tedious and stressful, it is better to do it at a time of ‘ease’ than at a time of ‘pain’. When things feel like they are falling apart, we are less likely to know what to do and we are thus prone to making mistakes. We must plan, even if it may seem like we will not see the fruits of our plans. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “If resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a seedling, then let him plant it.”
Imagine if your last conversation with your wife was an argument and then she died the following day. That last moment is how you will remember her, and you will regret it for the rest of your life. The reality is that your wife, husband, mother or father may die in the next few days. Your last conversation will define your future memory of them.
Abdullah (real name omitted) had an argument with his father before he died and said: “Now I hate myself. There is no way I can recover from this. My Dad died hating me and being ashamed of me. I can’t move on from this.” It does not matter who was right or wrong. It does not even matter who started it. What matters is how it was left.
At a time when we need the forgiveness of Allāh more than ever, realise that His forgiveness is connected to your forgiveness of others. “Do you not wish that Allāh should forgive you? Allāh is most forgiving and merciful.” The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”
What, then, stops us from forgiving our friends and family? Could it be our pride that stops us from forgiving and seeking forgiveness?
Never in our lifetimes have we, as a human race, ever felt that every conversation we have with our loved ones may be our last. Even if you see your loved one taken to the hospital, the time to reconcile and seek forgiveness is no longer in your grasp; they will likely die in the hospital without friends, family and you around them.
As Muslims, we are required to have a will that states our wishes, advice for loved ones, and most importantly how our assets are to be divided. The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequest not to let two nights pass without writing a will about it.” So many problems are avoided when a will is in place. Unfortunately, there have been many conflicts due to the distribution of assets after the death of a loved one. Although the focus of this article is not the writing of a will, here are a few things you should consider:
1] Inheritance Tax: if the value of your assets exceeds £325,000, then anything in excess of that will be taxed by the government at 40%. It is worth looking into inheritance tax planning to explore your options in mitigating any unnecessary taxes that your family may have to pay in their moment of grief.
Yusuf lived in his family home for 35 years. He was forced to sell it when his parents passed away as the tax was too much. He had to settle in a smaller house in a different city away from his friends and family.
2] Burial Arrangement: in light of some confusion regarding the possibility of some bodies being cremated, it is important to state in the will that you want to be buried and not cremated.
3] Distribution of Assets: you are allowed in Islām to give one third of your wealth to whomever you wish outside of those already entitled to a share according to the Sharī’a (e.g. certain family members) such as a charity.
4] Guardian for Your Children: in the current climate, where it is possible that both parents may pass away, it is important to have that uncomfortable conversation as to who would take care of your dependents in the event of you and your spouse’s demise.
The content of the will should be discussed with the whole family so that there are no grievances or disputes after the person has passed away.
While you are alive, you should consider paying off your debts, or at least finding a guarantor who will take care of them if you are unable to do so before you pass away. The Prophet (ﷺ) would ask if a person’s debt had been paid before he would agree to pray his janāza. He also said, “The martyr is forgiven for every sin except debt.”
Life after a Spouse’s Death
There are further considerations to account for other than the contents of the will. We may feel like we know those who we love, but how much do we really know about them? For example, if your husband passed away tomorrow, would you know how many bank accounts he has, or what bills to pay? When Fatima lost her husband, she said,
“I am overwhelmed with what to do with the bills. There are so many and I have no idea of what has been paid and not.”
An important part of this article, therefore, is focusing on planning in advance, in particular what happens if a spouse or relative passes away. Ensure that you know about each other’s financial situation. It is very dangerous to be unaware of the financial affairs of your spouse. Imagine if your husband pays for all of the bills: do you know what bills he pays and which account they are paid from?
Below is an example of a list of things you need to make for yourself and share with your next of kin in a “Just in Case” folder:
- Identification papers: National Insurance number, birth and marriage certificates, passport, driving license, and visa documentation.
- Will and any trust documents.
- Residence: title deeds, mortgage details or tenancy agreement, and any insurance if you have any.
- Travel: cars, insurance, and any outstanding finance, MOT, and road tax dates; details of preferred mechanics, and so on.
- Assets: any properties abroad, jewellery, benefits, pension, and debt to pay and owed, including any due zakāh.
- Bank: number of accounts, credit or debit card details and pin number or passwords, including online banking; direct debits, standing orders, and subscriptions; details of any emergency funds.
- Taxes: details of payment schedules, for example.
- Monthly Bills: names of companies for electricity, gas, phone (landline and mobile), and school fees; how the bill is paid and from which account.
- Online Account: laptop, social media, email, and cloud accounts with passwords.
- Contact List: accountants, solicitors, and business associates.
- Shopping budgets: likes and dislikes of children who may be left behind.
*Sharing passwords and pin numbers is of course a very sensitive matter and it depends on the strength of your relationship and trust you have; all couples are at different levels of their journey. However, matters that can be shared without divulging passwords/pins should be considered.
*This document should be updated regularly, and how to gain access should be known to your next of kin.
The abovementioned things take less than an hour to compile but will save your loved ones days, weeks, or even months, and in some cases there may be things that will never be found. Do not hope for the best; plan for it.
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 The details of how to write a will here is not comprehensive as the details are out of the scope of this article. Contact organisations that specialise in this field who can best advise you how to write one. Two that I trust will do a good job are https://www.iwillsolicitors.com/ and https://www.amansolicitors.com/
 This amount is correct as of 12th April 2020. Note, the threshold of £325,000 maybe more depending on different circumstances and it may change in the future.
 There is an entire chapter in Islamic jurisprudence that you should consult. The majority of scholars state that the maternal grandmother should take care of the children in the event of both parents passing away. However, there are some practical matters to take into consideration, so you should consult a scholar you trust beforehand.
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.