On 13 March 2014, the Law Society issue a practice note on Sharia wills and inheritance rules for solicitors to assist them in the use of Sharia law succession rules, in particular in will drafting, trust issues and disputes over estates.
This is the first time guidance has been published for solicitors to assist them with the intricacies of Sharia succession rules, which is the code of law derived from the Quran and from the teachings and example of Mohammed.
Clients in England and Wales can legally choose to bequeath their assets according to Sharia rules, providing the will is signed in accordance with the requirements set out in the Wills Act 1837.
Sharia rules are not identical in every Muslim country; there are differences between Sunni and Shia rules, and different interpretations of Sunni law. The Law Society's practice note focuses on the Sunni rules, and its procedure for directing inheritances.
For solicitors tasked with drafting a Sharia-compliant will, there are three key steps that must be taken and which are significantly different to traditional probate processes. Firstly, the cost of the burial and any debts must be paid. Secondly, a third of the estate may be given to charities or individuals who are not obligatory heirs. Finally, the remainder is given to a defined set of "primary" and then "residual" heirs.
The main difficulty for solicitors preparing a Sharia-compliant will is the inability to state in advance who the Sharia heirs will be, as the identity of the heirs and their respective entitlements can only be determined at the date of the testator's death.
Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, said:
'This practice note provides guidance to solicitors dealing with clients where Sharia succession rules may be relevant. This is the first time such advice has been published and we hope it will assist solicitors with Sharia probate matters.
'There is a wide variety of spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs within our population, and the Law Society wants to support its members so they can help clients from all backgrounds.
'We hope this guidance will help solicitors assist their clients and go some way to forming an idea of good practice when it comes to applying Sharia succession rules within the legal profession.'
The Law Society will also host a free introductory course in June to help small firms develop services for Muslim clients.
The Practice Note is available at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/practice-notes/sharia-succession-rules/