Read: 1996 July 01, Wills, Applicable Laws, Inheritance

The Universal House of Justice

The Bahá'í World Centre

1 July 1996
Transmitted by email

Mr . xxxx, U.S.A.

Dear Baha'i Friend,

Your email message of 12 February 1996, requesting clarification on various aspects of the subject of Baha'i wills, was received at the Baha'i World Centre, and we have been asked to reply as follows. We regret the delay in our response, which has been occasioned by the heavy workload at the World Centre.

In your communication you pose five questions about Baha'i wills. These will be addressed in the order set by you. The first question asks for confirmation of your understanding that the writing of a will is one of the laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas which is currently binding on the friends. In a letter dated 9 June 1974, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, those laws listed in the "Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas" but which are not binding on the friends at this time were delineated, and as the entry at item IV.D.1.o "The writing of a testament" was not included in that letter, you are correct in your understanding. A copy of the letter is enclosed for your reference.

Furthermore, a memorandum dated 20 September 1994 from the Research Department of the House of Justice draws upon the Writings in regard to this subject and indicates the importance of every Baha'is making a will (the attachment referred to is enclosed for your reference):

Baha'u'llah clearly establishes the making of a will as one of His laws. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 109, He instructs: "Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will." The importance of this law is not to be underestimated, as can be seen from a careful study of the attached compilation of newly translated extracts from Tablets revealed by Abdu'l-Baha. Not only is making a will a spiritual duty, "one of the binding laws of this mighty Dispensation", but it allows the individual full discretion to specify how his or her property, including the residence, is to be disposed of, and it is conducive to unity and agreement. Failure to draw up a will is considered by Abdu'l-Baha as "disobedience" to the command of Baha'u'llah and as "non-fulfilment of the divine obligation", and it leads to the division of the individual's property according to provisions of the laws of inheritance.

It is worth noting that the Baha'i laws of inheritance apply only when the individual dies without making a will. Indeed, one of Abdu'l-Baha's Tablets seems to indicate that the very provisions of the Baha'i law of intestacy are intended as an incentive to individuals not to neglect the duty of making a will early in life.

Your second question also focuses on the writing of a will being a requirement; we believe that the above-quoted text sufficiently addresses that issue.

Your third and fourth questions concern the "spiritual" portion of a Baha'i will, that is, that portion of a believer's will which is a statement of faith, rather than a statement about the material or, to use your word, "ordinary" aspects of a will, such as distribution of one's possessions and provision for the upbringing of one's children. It would seem that your understanding that the individual believer should draft the "spiritual" portion of his or her will, rather than asking a lawyer to do so, is in keeping with the same paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas referred to earlier, paragraph 109, which provides guidance as to the "spiritual" content and, additionally, makes a specification regarding how the individual should head the document:

Unto everyone hath been enjoined the writing of a will. The testator should head this document with the adornment of the Most Great Name, bear witness therein unto the oneness of God in the Dayspring of His Revelation, and make mention, as he may wish, of that which is praiseworthy, so that it may be a testimony for him in the kingdoms of Revelation and Creation and a treasure with his Lord, the Supreme Protector, the Faithful.

Note 137 in "The Kitab-i-Aqdas" adds clarification of the reference in this passage to the Most Great Name:

As explained in note 33, the Greatest Name of God can take various forms, all based on the word "Baha". The Baha'is in the East have implemented this injunction of the Aqdas by heading their wills with such phrases as "O Thou Glory of the All-Glorious", "In the name of God, the All-Glorious" or "He is the All-Glorious" and the like.

Aside from these prerequisites stated in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the friends are free to formulate the provisions of their wills as they please, and should compose their wills according to their own wishes.

Your fifth question centers on the provision for Huququ'llah in Baha'i wills. Your understanding that the obligation to pay Huququ'llah arises during one's lifetime and is normally to be carried out with lifetime giving is correct, although at the same time it is true that there may be cases where a believer dies without having made provision in his or her will for payment of the unpaid portion of Huququ'llah, if any. The event of death does not remove from a believer the obligation to pay Huququ'llah. Whatever portion is due to be paid is therefore a debt due from the believer's estate at the time of his or her death. The cost of the funeral and burial, the payment of the debts of the deceased, and the payment of whatever portion of Huququ'llah remains due are prior charges on the estate which must be met before arriving at the amount of the property which has to be divided in accordance with the provisions of the law of inheritance. Thus, whether or not a person makes a will or, having made a will, whether he or she makes provision in it for the payment of Huququ'llah, the Huququ'llah should be paid, like all debts, before the rest of the state is divided.

In light of this, it is certainly advisable for a believer to make the necessary arrangements for payment of Huququ'llah prior to his or her death, in order to avoid complications or confusions which could arise. It should be noted that the question of a legal wording to include provision in a will for the payment of Huququ'llah after a believer has died is dependent upon so many factors, that it would be preferable to seek legal advice so that wording which is appropriate and in accordance with the laws governing inheritance can be used. Obviously, unless the believer leaves a clear accounting of his or her property and payment of Huququ'llah to date, if any, it will not be pos- sible for anyone to calculate accurately what remains to be paid at the time of death. While the application of the principles involved in payment of Huququ'llah may well require subsidiary legislation by the House of Justice in the future, at the present time it falls to the executor or administrator of an estate to apply them to the extent possible, using his or her best judgment and taking into account the information available. Finally, while the payment of Huququ'llah is each individual's own responsibility, a believer may be referred to the nearest Representative of the Trustee of Huququ'llah, who could advise him or her in the light of any specific circumstances.

We hope that the foregoing will be of assistance to you in clarifying and strengthening your understanding of the relevant issues involved in the subject of Baha'i wills. Your efforts to aid the friends in recognizing the importance of this document, and particularly in grasping its spiritual significance, are commended. Be assured of the prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that your endeavors may attract bounteous confirmations from the Concourse on High.

With loving Baha'i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

Enclosures 2 (appended)
1) Listing of laws "not at present binding upon the friends in the western world
2) Extracts from Four Tablets by Abdu'l-Baha Concerning the Question of Inheritance

The Universal House of Justice

The Bahá'í World Centre

9 June 1974

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of ...

Dear Baha'i Friends,

Thank you for your letter of 4 March 1974 enclosing the enquiry from the Baha'i Group of .... It has become apparent from a number of questions we have received that many believers are not clear which are those laws already binding upon the Baha'is in the West. We therefore feel it is timely to clarify the situation, and the simplest way is to state those laws listed in the "Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas" which are not at present binding upon the friends in the western world. For ease of reference we give the numbers of the sections listed.

IV.A.4.c The law regarding the exemption from obligatory prayer granted to women in their courses.

IV.A.10 The law concerning ablutions, with the exception of the ablutions required for the Medium Obligatory Prayer which are described in Section CLXXXII of " Prayers and Meditations" and are required for the recitation of that prayer.

IV.A.12 The law concerning actions to be taken in place of an Obligatory Prayer missed on account of insecure conditions.

IV.B.5.a The definition of travellers for the purpose of exemption from fasting. Instead of these definitions the believers in the West should observe the following guidance given by the beloved Guardian's secretary on his behalf: "travellers are exempt from fasting, but if they want to fast while they are travelling, they are free to do so. You are exempt the whole period of your travel, not just the hours you are in a train or car, etc...."

IV.B.5.f The law regarding the exemption from fasting granted to women in their courses.

I V.C.1.i The laws governing betrothal.

IV.C.1.j The law concerning the payment of a dowry by the groom to the bride on marriage.

IV.C.1.l & m The laws concerning the travelling of a husband away from his wife.

IV.C.1.n & o The laws relating to the virginity of the wife.

IV.C.2.b That part of the divorce law relating to fines payable to the House of Justice.

IV.C.3 The law of inheritance. This is normally covered by civil laws of intestacy at the present time.

IV.D.1.a The law of pilgrimage.

IV.D.1.b The law of Huququ'llah is not yet applied to the western friends. [It became universally applicable at Ridvan 1992.]

IV.D.1.d The law of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar is gradually being put into effect.

IV.D.1.f The Baha'i Festivals are being celebrated by the western friends on their anniversaries in the Gregorian calendar until such time as the Universal House of Justice deems it desirable to pass supplementary legislation necessary for the full implementation of the Badi` calendar.

IV.D.1.j The age of maturity applies only to Baha'i religious duties as yet. On other matters it is subject to the civil law of each country. The age of administrative maturity in the Baha'i community has, for the time being, been fixed at 21.

IV.D.1.k For the burial of the dead the only requirements now bind- ing in the West are to bury the body (not to cremate it), not to carry it more than a distance of one hour's journey from the place of death, and to say the Prayer for the Dead if the deceased is a believer over the age of 15.

IV.D.1.p The law of tithes.

IV.D.1.q The law concerning the repetition of the Greatest Name 95 times a day.

IV.D.1.r The law concerning the hunting of animals.

IV.D.1.t, The laws relating to the finding of lost property, the u, v & w disposition of treasure trove, the disposal of objects held in trust and compensation for manslaughter are all designed for a future state of society. These matters are usually covered by the civil law of each country.

IV.D.1.y, Arson, adultery, murder and theft are all forbidden to xiv, xv, Baha'is, but the punishments prescribed for them in the xvi & xvii Kitab-i-Aqdas are designed for a future state of society. Such matters are usually covered by the civil laws of each country.

IV.D.1.y, The laws prohibiting the use of the type of pools which used xxv, xxx, to be found in Persian baths, the plunging of one's hand in xxxi & food, the shaving of one's head and the growth of men's hair xxxii below the lobe of the ear.

All the exhortations, listed in section IV.D.3, are applicable universally at the present time insofar as it is possible for the friends to implement them; for example, the exhortation to teach one's children to chant the Holy Verses in the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar can be literally carried out only on a limited scale at the present time, but the friends should, nevertheless, teach their children the Holy Writings as far as possible.

With loving Baha'i greetings,
The Universal House of Justice

1. Extracts from Four Tablets by Abdu'l-Baha Concerning the Question of Inheritance

O ye the relatives of that servant of God!

Give thanks unto God that ye have been successful in distributing the inheritance in the manner laid down by Him. This is the first time in this great Cycle that an inheritance hath been so distributed. God willing, all will follow your example in carrying this law into effect.

In this connection, it should be noted that the question of the will is of extreme importance: everyone should devote the most serious attention to drawing up a will, so that there should be no one who doth not have a will. This is one of the binding laws of this mighty Dispensation. We ask God to bestow a blessing upon your affairs so that they may prosper abundantly.

Upon you be greeting and praise. [1]

As for the question of inheritance which is occasioning perplexity: in truth, one is entirely free during his lifetime to make provision in his will for the division and distribution of his property amongst his heirs in whatsoever manner he seeth fit, in order that his wishes may then be implemented after he hath passed away. The writing of a will is obligatory upon everyone; everyone, that is, must in his lifetime draw up a will that is firm, sound, and clear in its provisions; seal and hide it; and guard it in a very safe place. In drawing up his will the testator enjoyeth full discretion to dispose of his property as he seeth fit; his will is a binding instrument, having precedence over any other provision, and no one hath the power to either modify or change it. Under these conditions, should he bequeath his whole property to his children, he is but acting within his rights. In the event, however, of disobedience to this command, of failure to draw up a will, and of non-fulfilment of the divine obligation; likewise in the event of disappearance of the will itself, the testator's property will be divided up according to the designated shares.

In truth, the wisdom of this perspicuous and most mighty ordinance is that no one should draw breath without a will. Observe how, in the absence of a will, the inheritance in its entirety is divided up, distributed and dispersed contrary to the wishes of the deceased; what difficulties and disagreements are thus engendered! The will, however, is the settler of every dispute, and the cause of ease for all, for in it the testator disposeth of his property in whatsoever manner he desireth. How agreeable it is for the estate in its entirety to be disposed of in accordance with the testator's will and pleasure! Observe ye how many people during their lifetime are fearful about what will happen when they pass away. Now, with this divine commandment -- the obligation and religious duty of drawing up a will before one's passing -- all these difficulties are resolved. [2]

2. Extracts from Four Tablets by Abdu'l-Baha

As regards the holy verse, the intention of the reference to `male, not female', is the first-born son, for in all the Divine Dispensations the first-born son hath enjoyed a special distinction. Refer ye to the Torah and the Gospel, and likewise to the traditions related from aforetime. Read ye the story of Esau, Jacob and the sons of Isaac in the Torah, that it may become apparent that in all the divine Dispensations the eldest son hath been given extraordinary distinctions. Even the station of prophethood hath been his birthright, let alone the vanities of this world. Even the just laws current amongst civilized states and peoples have also accorded to the first-born son a special distinction.

Today the English state claimeth to be the most enlightened in the world. Among the characteristics of the English people is that they restrict the property in its entirety to the first-born son. Their reasoning in this is that when an accumulation of wealth is divided up it is dispersed and lost. A certain individual, for instance, amasseth with untold pains a considerable fortune; then, upon his death, his fortune is divided up, and this division causeth it to be dispersed and scattered to the winds. If, however, it be restricted to the first-born son, it is preserved intact, and he careth for others. For this reason there are at present among the English people many households in which, for four or five centuries, the family fortune hath remained intact without having been distributed and dispersed.

Our intention in this is not at all that it is commendable and praiseworthy to restrict the inheritance to the first-born son. Our intention is rather to show that in the laws of civilized countries the first-born son hath likewise been accorded a special distinction. By `first-born son' is intended the eldest of the surviving male children. The aim of assigning the residence exclusively to him is that at least the home of the deceased may be preserved intact, so that whoever among his family should either reside or visit there may be put in mind of him, and seek God's pardon and forgiveness for him.

All these matters, however, are of secondary importance. That which is of primary and fundamental importance, and constituteth, by the express pronouncement of the holy text, a divinely established obligation, is the making of a will. Everyone must in his lifetime draw up a will, and dispose of his property in whatsoever manner he deemeth fit, while having due regard for the need to observe justice and equity. Under these conditions, there will be no one who hath not made a will, and inheritance will thus be dealt with according to the will of the deceased. The said provisions are applicable only when someone dies without having made a will. The testator, then, is free to bequeath the residence to whomsoever he wisheth; or, if he desireth, he may devise it to all his heirs jointly. No room hath now been left for misunderstanding, and `Abdu'l-Baha hath elucidated the intention of the divine law. Let whomsoever wisheth turn towards it; whosoever wisheth not will turn away from it. In any case, Our function is to elucidate the law of God, and to explain the meaning of the compendious verses. [3]

3. Extracts from Four Tablets by Abdu'l-Baha

The residence is under all conditions the property of the first-born son, irrespective of whether or not the deceased should have left behind him other property as well. The first-born son receiveth, moreover, his share of the remainder of the estate. This is that which God hath prescribed. The testator is, however, at liberty while still alive to dispose of his property in whatsoever manner he seeth fit. Likewise, the first-born son must himself, for the sake of God, take into consideration the other heirs, and be just and fair to them. In truth, it is obligatory for everyone, by the express requirement of the divine text, to draw up a will, so that it may be implemented after he hath passed away. This, verily, is the perspicuous truth. If, God forbid, he disobeyeth the divine command -- faileth, that is, to draw up a will -- then his estate must be divided up in the stipulated manner. [4] v2.7 (213613) © 2005 - 2021 Emanuel V. Towfigh & Peter Hoerster | Imprint | Change Interface Language: DE