Definitions of Islamic Heirs

Wife or husband. Only a legal marriage results in entitlement to inheritance. Generally, an Islamic marriage contracted abroad is valid in the United States as long as it complied with the law of the country where the marriage was contracted. Similarly, an Islamic marriage contracted in the United States is valid if it complied with state law. Most states require the couple to obtain a marriage license before going to their imam to perform their Islamic marriage. Civil marriages are also legal marriages.

Sons and daughters. Only children born within a legal marriage are eligible to inherit under Islamic law. Illegitimate children—children born out of wedlock—are not eligible to inherit under Islamic law. Illegitimate children take the name of their mother and inherit only from the maternal side. The requirement for legitimacy under Islamic law is very minimal: oral marriages are valid, as is polygamy. Islamic public policy favors legitimacy rather than illegitimacy. Adopted sons and stepsons are not eligible to inherit, but you are free to provide them a specific bequest in your will. Sunni Islamic law permits you to provide a bequest of up to 1/3 of your estate to a non-Islamic heir.

Grandsons. Only son’s sons are eligible to inherit. Daughter’s sons are not eligible. Because the daughter’s sons carry their father’s name, their paternal family is more responsible for them, and, more importantly, the objective of the extended family in a patriarchal or tribal system, is to preserve the wealth of the family by keeping it within the paternal family. This explains why the daughter’s sons don’t inherit from their mother’s paternal line.

The transformation of labor and the economic system, coupled with urbanization and immigration, has transformed society and family structures. While your daughter’s son is not an automatic heir, you are free to provide him with a bequest as permitted, up to 1/3 of your estate.

Granddaughters. Only son’s daughters are eligible to inherit. Daughter’s daughters are not eligible to inherit. Muslim societies are organized according to the paternal line.

Father. Similar to child legitimacy, the father of an illegitimate son is not eligible to inherit. The same is true for a stepfather. That said, you are free to leave your illegitimate father or stepfather a bequest in your will as long as it does not exceed 1/3 of your estate.

Mother. If your mother was not married to your father, you are entitled to inherit from her and she is entitled to inherit from you. A stepmother is not eligible to inherit, but you are free to leave her a specific bequest in your will as long as it does not exceed 1/3 of your estate.

Grandfathers. Only your father’s father is eligible to inherit. Your mother’s father is not eligible to inherit, but you are free to leave him a specific bequest in your will as long as it does not exceed 1/3 of your estate.

Paternal grandmother. Your father’s mother is eligible to inherit.

Maternal grandmother. Your mother’s mother is eligible to inherit.

Full brothers. A full brother shares the same father and the same mother with you.

Full sisters. A full sister shares the same father and the same mother with you.

Paternal brothers. A paternal brother shares the same father but has a different mother.

Paternal sisters. A paternal sister shares the same father but has a different mother.

Maternal brothers. A maternal brother shares the same mother but has a different father.

Maternal sisters. A maternal sister shares the same mother but has a different father.

Full nephews. A full nephew is your brother’s son. Only a full nephew is eligible to inherit. Your sister’s son is not eligible. The paternal line emphasis is to preserve the wealth and property of the paternal family.

Paternal nephews. A paternal nephew is your paternal brother’s son. Only a paternal nephew is eligible to inherit. Your paternal brother’s daughter is not eligible. This is done to preserve the paternal property, because it is likely that the daughter will marry outside of the paternal family.

Full nephew’s sons. A full nephew’s son is your full brother’s son’s son.

Paternal nephew’s sons. A paternal nephew’s son is your paternal half brother’s son.

Paternal full uncles. A full paternal uncle is your father’s full brother.

Paternal half uncles. A half paternal uncle is your father’s paternal brother. That is, your father and your uncle have the same father but different mothers.

Full cousins. A full cousin is your father’s full brother’s son.

Paternal cousins. A paternal cousin is your father’s paternal brother’s son.

Paternal cousin’s sons. A paternal cousin’s son is your father’s paternal brother’s son’s son.

Full cousin’s grandsons. A full cousin’s grandson is your father’s full brother’s son’s son.

The 1/3 of your estate flexibility. Some people use the 1/3 to leave money for charity, a family member who is not a taker, a family member who needs some assistance, a disabled relative, a friend, or a woman considered as a wife but not legally a wife.

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