We have divided inheritance into seven categories ¶20
The Bahá’í laws of inheritance apply only in case of intestacy, that is, when the individual dies without leaving a will. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (¶109
), Bahá’u’lláh instructs every believer to write a will. He elsewhere clearly states that the individual has full jurisdiction over his property and is free to determine the manner in which his or her estate is to be divided and to designate, in the will, those, whether Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, who should inherit (Q&A 69
). In this connection, a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi explains that:
…even though a Bahá’í is permitted in his will to dispose of his wealth in the way he wishes, yet he is morally and conscientiously bound to always bear in mind, while writing his will, the necessity of his upholding the principle of Bahá’u’lláh regarding the social function of wealth, and the consequent necessity of avoiding its over-accumulation and concentration in a few individuals or groups of individuals.
This verse of the Aqdas introduces a lengthy passage in which Bahá’u’lláh elaborates the Bahá’í law of inheritance. In reading this passage one should bear in mind that the law is formulated with the presumption that the deceased is a man; its provisions apply, mutatis mutandis, when the deceased is a woman.
The system of inheritance which provides for distribution of the deceased’s estate among seven categories of heirs (children, spouse, father, mother, brothers, sisters, and teachers) is based on the provisions set out by the Báb in the Bayán. The major features of the Bahá’í laws of inheritance in the case of intestacy are:
1. If the deceased is a father and his estate includes a personal residence, such residence passes to the eldest son (Q&A 34
2. If the deceased has no male descendants, two thirds of the residence pass to his female descendants and the remaining third passes to the House of Justice (Q&A 41
). See note 42
concerning the levels of the institution of the House of Justice to which this law applies. (See also note 44
3. The remainder of the estate is divided among the seven categories of heirs. For details of the number of shares to be received by each group, see Questions and Answers, number 5
, and Synopsis and Codification, section IV.C.3.a.
4. In case there is more than one heir in any category the share allotted to that class should be divided between them equally, be they male or female.
5. In cases where there is no issue, the share of the children reverts to the House of Justice (Q&A 7
6. Should one leave offspring, but either part or all of the other categories of heirs be non-existent, two thirds of their shares revert to the offspring and one third to the House of Justice (Q&A 7
7. Should none of the specified categories exist, two thirds of the estate revert to the nephews and nieces of the deceased. If these do not exist, the same shares revert to the aunts and uncles; lacking these, to their sons and daughters. In any case the remaining third reverts to the House of Justice.
8. Should one leave none of the aforementioned heirs, the entire estate reverts to the House of Justice.
9. Bahá’u’lláh states that non-Bahá’ís have no right to inherit from their Bahá’í parents or relatives (Q&A 34
). Shoghi Effendi in a letter written on his behalf indicates that this restriction applies “only to such cases when a Bahá’í dies without leaving a will and when, therefore, his property will have to be divided in accordance with the rules set forth in the Aqdas. Otherwise, a Bahá’í is free to bequeath his property to any person, irrespective of religion, provided however he leaves a will, specifying his wishes.” It is always possible, therefore, for a Bahá’í to provide for his or her non-Bahá’í partner, children or relatives by leaving a will.
Additional details of the laws of inheritance are summarized in the Synopsis and Codification, section IV.C.3.a.-o.