Wills and Inheritance
1. Note from recipient... This letter of the House of Justice was in response to questions from a Bahá'í attorney. To me, the unpublished extracts from Tablets by the Master on the subject of Bahá'í wills are most interesting. You will see that one of them is the source of the passage quoted by Shoghi Effendi in the course of his discussion on the hereditary nature of the Guardianship (World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 148) -- a most interesting extrapolation of the Master's Tablet on the inheritance rights of the eldest son...
2. Response from Universal House of Justice1 July 1996
Dear Bahá'í Friend,
Your email message of 12 February 1996, requesting clarification on various aspects of the subject of Bahá'í wills, was received at the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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. [online here]
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 Bahá'ís making a will (the attachment referred to is enclosed for your reference):
Bahá'u'lláh 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-Bahá. 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-Bahá as "disobedience" to the command of Bahá'u'lláh 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 Bahá'í laws of inheritance apply only when the individual dies without making a will. Indeed, one of Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablets seems to indicate that the very provisions of the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'í 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 possible 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 Bahá'í 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.
Department of the Secretariat