This is a very common concern among American Muslims. Thankfully, the Sharī‘a offers solutions to protect your wife’s financial security if you predecease her.
First, you are free to gift her property and/or money during your lifetime. This is valid and sound under the Sharī‘a.
Second, you may increase your wife’s mahr. The mahr, or dowry, is a financial obligation that a groom must give a bride when they conclude the marriage contract. Any property of value can be a mahr. A woman’s mahr automatically becomes her separate property and is considered a debt upon the husband’s estate. Because the mahr is a debt upon the husband, the mahr must be paid from the gross estate before the prescribed shares are distributed to the Islamic heirs. So a wife will receive her mahr from the estate, plus her Qur’anic prescribed share.
You are free to increase your wife’s mahr to better protect her financial security as long as you are increasing it voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence. This is valid and sound under Sharī‘a without violating the prescribed-share system.
Finally, you may acknowledge a moral debt to your devoted wife based on your marriage contract. Strong Sharī‘a authority finds a marriage contract does not require a wife to be responsible for the domestic chores for the family and her husband. Some scholars agree with this opinion, but only for a wife who was accustomed to such lifestyle prior to marriage.
Based on this authority, a husband may be required to hire domestic help to provide for these domestic services. If his wife provides those domestic chores—which includes preparing food, caring for the children, and cleaning the home—the husband may be required to financially compensate his wife for all of the domestic services she provided for him and the family.
Third, another theory is based on the wife’s financial and nonfinancial contributions to the acquisition of the marital estate. If your wife facilitated or contributed to the acquisition of the marital estate either by working or by sacrificing her career to stay home (to either manage the marital finances or raise the children), then she has an equitable interest in the property acquired during the marriage.
The authority for this theory dates back to the 7th Century. The Caliph ‘Umar Ibn al-Khatab (May Allah be pleased with him) – known as the Just – resolved an inheritance dispute between a surviving spouse and her late husband’s siblings. A husband passed away with no children. Strictly speaking, the wife’s inheritance would be 1/4 and his siblings would receive 3/4. The widow submitted her dispute to ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with him). Amir Al Mu’mieen, she pleaded, ‘you know that my husband and I worked together in the business. I would stay up all night sewing and making the clothing that my husband would sell in the market.’ ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) acknowledged her contributions to acquire the marital estate and rules that she would receive 1/2 of the estate for her contributions plus 1/4 for her prescribed share.
You may fulfill your obligations to your devoted wife by acknowledging a moral/religious debt in your will. This moral/religious debt is paid from the gross estate before distributing the net estate to the Islamic heirs.
If you choose to pay your wife a moral/religious debt, she will receive the payment of the debt plus her Islamic fixed share. We do not believe this violates the Sharī‘a. Allah knows best.
To better protect the financial security of your wife should you predecease her, use our ISLAMIC WILL software to prepare your own customized Islamic estate plan that is legally valid for your state. This will allow you to increase your wife’s mahr and/or acknowledge a moral/religious debt owed to her.