The Law Society has published guidance for solicitors on sharia wills and how charitable gifts within them should be managed, in response to a rise in demand from the Muslim population of the UK.
The professional body for solicitors says its new practice note is the first time such advice has been published.
Under sharia law, which is derived from the Koran and the teachings of the prophet Mohammed, a maximum of a third of the estate remaining after burial costs and any outstanding debts may be paid to charities or individuals who are not obligatory heirs.
Sharia law designates four male and eight female relatives of the deceased who are obligatory heirs of the will and get set amounts of money. This presents the main difficulty for solicitors, the note says, "as the identity of the heirs and their respective entitlements can only be determined at the date of the testator’s death".
Sharia law varies from country to country in the Muslim world and between denominations of Islam. The note is based specifically on Sunni Muslim rules.
Azeam Akram, a solicitor at PWT Advice, who co-authored the note, said charities named in sharia wills need not necessarily be Muslim or Islam-oriented: "I haven’t read anywhere that there is a specific prohibition on giving to non-Muslim charities – that would be a thorny issue for some people, but it is really up to the testator."
He said the number of large Islamic inheritance law firms in the UK was rising. "People are realising that there is this need and they are working to meet it," he said.
Nicholas Fluck, president of the Law Society, said: "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."