Where there's a will, there's a Koranic way
HINA BHIMANI and Shazia Haque, both in their 30s, recently drew up Islamic wills that set out in algebraic detail how their assets will be distributed when they die.
It has always been possible to draw up a will that follows Koranic guidelines, but because of the complex formulas, and questions of how it fits into Australian law, it has not been common practice.
But since a law firm in Wollongong, RMB Lawyers, simplified the process by creating an Islamic will template, about 600 clients, mainly from south-western Sydney, have adopted it in the past 18 months.
Hayley Kelloway, a Muslim lawyer with RMB, said the Islamic will standardised what people could expect.
"Everyone is aware of the requirements and [so] there is more room for acceptance for what you are inheriting. Everyone is aware of the percentages, the reasons for it and the religious significance to people providing and receiving it," she said.
It is possible to challenge such a will, but Ms Kelloway said none of the wills drawn up by the firm had been challenged. "Because the children are aware of why it is being done, the religious significance of it, they are not likely to contest it," she said.
Under an Islamic will, after funeral expenses and debts are paid, distribution of two-thirds of the estate is dictated by Koranic guidelines, leaving up to one-third discretionary.
Ms Haque, 34, a hospital scientist, wanted her discretionary third to go to children's charities that care for orphans in Muslim countries. Ms Bhimani, 35, an ultrasound technician, also directed most of her discretionary portion to children's charities.
"Knowing the law firm was quite well versed in Islamic law, knowing the sensitivities of Islamic law, was important," Ms Haque said. She also liked being able to direct funeral rites, including the way her body should be washed, enshrouded and buried - facing Mecca.
For Ms Bhimani, who is married without children, and Ms Haque, who is single, the wills were fairly straightforward.
The women grew up together in Canberra and now work at St George Hospital. They met Ms Kelloway in a sharia class at Daar Aisha Shariah College in Lakemba. RMB has run free seminars over the past year.
"Islam deals equitably with all members of society," Ms Bhimani said.
"Some look at Islamic wills and say: 'How can you give to certain members of your family without question?'
"Allah's dictates ensure the family unit will remain healthy. It's often interpreted as the woman getting less, but if I give you, as a woman, $100 and say, 'Spend it however you want', and give a man $200 but say, 'You have many obligations to cover with the money', which one would you choose?"
The formulas are complex but embedded in the will template. Distribution of the first two-thirds of the estate depends on the family situation. Older members get their share first - parents, grandparents and spouses - and men receive more (with more obligations) than women. Children's portions are established after that.
For example, if a person is survived by two sons and two daughters, the sons get equal amounts and the daughters get equal amounts, but the daughters get half as much as the sons. If there are parents and grandparents, they get their share before the children.
Published by smh.com.au - Connie Levett (3 January, 2009)