Wills and Inheritance Law According to the Quran

Some Muslims believe that you are not allowed to write a will before dying and that inheritance is strictly based on the percentages specified in the Quran. However, not only is writing a will allowed, it’s even a prescribed duty for all Muslims. This is proven in verse 2:180.

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ إِن تَرَكَ خَيْرًا الْوَصِيَّةُ لِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ ۖ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُتَّقِينَ
Prescribed for you when death approaches [any] one of you if he leaves wealth [is that he should make] a bequest (will) for the parents and near relatives according to what is acceptable / reasonable / fair – a duty upon the righteous. (2:180)

In other words, if you do not make a will, then you violate verse 2:106.

According to verse 5:106, when you make a will, you need two witnesses.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا شَهَادَةُ بَيْنِكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ حِينَ الْوَصِيَّةِ اثْنَانِ ذَوَا عَدْلٍ مِّنكُمْ أَوْ آخَرَانِ مِنْ غَيْرِكُمْ إِنْ أَنتُمْ ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَأَصَابَتْكُم مُّصِيبَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۚ تَحْبِسُونَهُمَا مِن بَعْدِ الصَّلَاةِ فَيُقْسِمَانِ بِاللَّهِ إِنِ ارْتَبْتُمْ لَا نَشْتَرِي بِهِ ثَمَنًا وَلَوْ كَانَ ذَا قُرْبَىٰ ۙ وَلَا نَكْتُمُ شَهَادَةَ اللَّهِ إِنَّا إِذًا لَّمِنَ الْآثِمِينَ
O you who have believed, testimony [should be taken] among you when death approaches one of you at the time of bequest – [that of] two just men from among you or two others from outside if you are traveling through the land and the disaster of death should strike you. Detain them after the prayer and let them both swear by Allah if you doubt [their testimony, saying], “We will not exchange our oath for a price, even if he should be a near relative, and we will not withhold the testimony of Allah . Indeed, we would then be of the sinful.” (5:106)

According to verse 4:7, one must leave a will for parents and near relatives.

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا تَرَكَ الْوَالِدَانِ وَالْأَقْرَبُونَ مِمَّا قَلَّ مِنْهُ أَوْ كَثُرَ ۚ نَصِيبًا مَّفْرُوضًا
For men is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, and for women is a share of what the parents and close relatives leave, be it little or much – an obligatory share. (4:7)

Some Muslims may argue that Quran chapter 4 (surah Nisaa) abrogates or replaces the requirement to make and follow a will in verse 2:180. However, upon careful analysis, it becomes clear that the inheritance verses in Surah Nisaa only apply after any debts have been paid and the will has been executed. Of course, if no will exists, the specific inheritance percentages specified in Surah Nisaa would apply.

… مِن بَعْدِ وَصِيَّةٍ يُوصِي بِهَا أَوْ دَيْنٍ …
(the distribution stipulated) … after (Arabic: ba’di) any will (Arabic: wasiyyatin) which he has made or any debts … (4:11)
… مِّن بَعْدِ وَصِيَّةٍ تُوصُونَ بِهَا أَوْ دَيْنٍ …
(the distribution stipulated) … after (Arabic: ba’di) any will (Arabic: wasiyyatin) which was made or any debts … (4:12)

Obviously, if the distribution stipulations in chapter 4 were only to be followed, then there would be no point in God requiring everyone to make a will (2:180).

Furthermore, according to verse 2:181, no one has the authority to prevent someone from making a will or to change an existing will.

فَمَن بَدَّلَهُ بَعْدَمَا سَمِعَهُ فَإِنَّمَا إِثْمُهُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ يُبَدِّلُونَهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
Then whoever alters the bequest (will) after he has heard it – the sin is only upon those who have altered it. Indeed, God is Hearing and Knowing. (2:181)

However, according to 2:182, if one feels any wrongdoing on the part of the person making the will (testator), then they are allowed to reconcile / correct the issue with the testator.

فَمَنْ خَافَ مِن مُّوصٍ جَنَفًا أَوْ إِثْمًا فَأَصْلَحَ بَيْنَهُمْ فَلَا إِثْمَ عَلَيْهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
But if one fears from the bequeather [some] error or sin and corrects that which is between them, there is no sin upon him. Indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful. (2:182)

Some Muslims get a headache when trying to understand verses 4:11-12 to determine shares of inheritance. If Muslims just followed the Quranic requirement to create a will, then there would be no need to feel guilty or confused when trying to understand verses 4:11-12. Nevertheless, one must keep in mind that a will (wasiyya) should be made with fairness / reasonableness (bil-ma’rufin) in mind. It should not intend to hurt or compromise (ghayra mudarrin – 4:12) other beneficiaries, e.g. by not giving a fair portion to one’s closest relatives.

In the end, only God knows which relatives such as parents or children are nearer to one in benefit.

آبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ لَا تَدْرُونَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ لَكُمْ نَفْعًا
Your parents or your children – you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. (4:11)

Obviously, the benefit of God allowing people to create a will is so that people have the flexibility to adjust shares taking into account certain circumstances that may exist, e.g. if a sole parent has two children and one child is filthy rich and the other is poor, the parent has the authority to give more to the poor child since that child, obviously, would need the money more than the rich kid.

If a will doesn’t exist or if a will leaves a remainder to be divided, then one must follow the distribution stipulations in 4:11-12. I have made a flowchart to help with this matter. It can be found at


What happens when a will doesn’t exist and Quranic distribution shares don’t add up to 100%?

This is a common question asked when people try to divide an inheritance when there is no will. For example, if the deceased has no legal heirs / relatives except for one sister, then the Quran states that the sister gets ½ of the inheritance. So what must be done with the remaining half?

First of all, you should never be in this situation to begin with because the Quran requires that you create a will (2:180) and nowhere in the Quran does it limit what percentage of your wealth can be specified in the will. So, if people just follow the Quran’s mandates, they can make a will accounting for 100% of their wealth and there would be no problems. Of course, debts must be paid first.

Secondly, if for some reason there is no will, which unfortunately seems to happen very often, then in the event the Quranic inheritance distribution shares don’t add up to 100%, then the remainder logically needs to be divided somehow. The Quran does not specify what to do with the remainder. This may be so as to offer flexibility in dividing the remainder to whoever deserves it based on each family’s situation. For example, if the only legal heirs are two sisters and there is no will, then the Quran indicates that the sisters share 2/3 of the inheritance, i.e. each gets 1/3. The remaining 1/3 can be allocated based on the appointed executor(s) judgment keeping in mind verse 2:180 which requires allocation to be fair and appropriate (bil-ma’rufin) and verse 4:12 which requires that allocation not be done with the intention of hurting anyone (ghayra mudarrin). Following are examples of ways the remaining 1/3 can be divided:

  • if one sister is filthy rich and the other is poor, then logically the poor sister would be more in need of the extra inheritance and therefore may deserve some or all of the remaining 1/3
  • if there are other relatives or orphans or needy people present during the time of the inheritance distribution, then according to verse 4:8, they should and could get the remaining 1/3
  • if both sisters are equal financially and there are no other relatives, orphans or needy people present, then the two sisters could divide the remaining 1/3 equally

Obviously, the best person to decide how their inheritance should be distributed would be the person who dies. For that reason, it makes sense that God would require everyone to make a will. Inheritance executors, e.g. probate court judges, probably don’t know how to best distribute any remaining inheritance and they probably don’t want to make decisions regarding someone else’s wealth. Again, that is why it is imperative that everyone make a will, even if that will closely matches the Quranic inheritance distribution stipulations with slight modifications to add up to 100%.

The example above is where the Quranic distribution percentage doesn’t add up to 100%. There’s also the possibility where the percentages add up to over 100%. Consider the following example where a man dies and is survived by his wife, 3 daughters and both parents.

RelativeShare FractionShare Percentage
3 Daughters2/366.7%

In this example, the distribution exceeds 100% by 12.5%. Since that makes no sense, the only logical thing to do is reduce everyone’s percentage proportionally to reach 100%. Again, this would not be an issue if the deceased had just made a will with a 100% distribution. This is exactly what is done in the online Islamic inheritance calculator at


Are the Quranic distribution percentages fair?

Many people insist that they must follow the Quranic percentages even though verse 2:180 mandates that everyone make a will and distribute their inheritance with fairness and reasonableness. Now, let’s consider a hypothetical situation whereby a man is married to someone for 20 years. His parents have passed away and he has no siblings. The man then divorces his wife and remarries. One day after his 2nd wedding, he dies without having written a will. In this particular case, the Quranic percentages would result in the following distribution:

RelativeShare FractionShare Percentage
Ex-wife of 20 years00
Wife of 1 day1100%

As you can see, the ex-wife of 20 years gets nothing and the new wife of 1 day gets 100%. This clearly violates verse 2:180 because it’s clearly an unfair and unreasonable distribution considering the duration of the marriages. This is yet another example that shows why it is absolutely necessary, not to mention mandatory, to make a will. Without one, there’s a good chance that inheritance distributions would not be fair.

With a will, is there a limit to how much you can distribute?

Some Muslims will argue that the most you can allocate in a will is 1/3 (33%) of your total assets. This value is nowhere to be found in the Quran. It comes from the hadith. For proof as to why the hadith is invalid, please see my other book titled: Analysis of Validity of Prophet Muhammad’s Hadith – Is It Truly From Muhammad And Valid Islamic Law?

As stated in verse 22:78, God has not made His religion difficult or overly complex.

وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ ۚ هُوَ اجْتَبَاكُمْ وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ
And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. … (22:78 part)

It’s usually people who tend to make God’s religion difficult and overly complex. At the end of the day, according to verse 64:16 what matters most is that you make an effort to do the best you can.

فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَاسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَأَنفِقُوا خَيْرًا لِّأَنفُسِكُمْ ۗ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
So fear God [by keeping your duty to him] as best as you can / what you are able (Arabic: ma is’tata’tum) and listen and obey and spend [in the way of God]; it is better for your selves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful. (64:16 part)

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