As you may know, the writing of a will is obligatory for Baha’is and failure to draw it up is considered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as “disobedience” to the command of Bahá’u’lláh:
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. (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 1 July 1996)
There is a lot of information online about what to include in a will, and how to word it if you are going to write it in your own handwriting, instead of going through a lawyer. Because the laws vary from province to province, from state to state, you will want to make sure you follow the law where you live, or better yet, hire a lawyer to make sure it’s done right.
Here are some things to consider:
Baha’is are free to dispose of our estates in whatever manner we choose.
A basic will names:
- your executor (the person responsible for executing your final wishes, paying your bills, dispersing your property, filling out government forms etc.). You may also want to nominate an alternate person to act as back-up, in case the executor passes away or is unable to perform the duties for any reason.
- a guardian for any minor children or dependents
- instructions for any pets you may own
- who you want to receive specific items
In addition, there are certain additional items Baha’is might consider adding.
- A heading
The testator should head this document with the adornment of the Most Great Name [Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá or O Glory of the Most Glorious], 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. Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas, 109)
Here is what I have at the beginning of mine:
I testify to the oneness of God, as manifested in the day spring of His revelation.
2. Burial Instructions
It’s best to have these separate from the Will because often the will is not read until after interment has taken place.
For the burial of the dead the only requirements now binding in the West are to bury the body (not to cremate it), not to carry it more than a distance of one hour’s journey from the place of death, and to say the Prayer for the Dead if the deceased is a believer over the age of 15.” (On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, at http://bahai-library.com/uhj_laws_not_binding )
Although much of the following is not yet binding, the following guidance might also want be considered:
In Bahá’í Law, the deceased is to be buried no more than one hour’s journey from the place of death. The journey to the burial place should be timed at an hour, regardless of the means of transport, and may be calculated from the city limits.
The length of time between death and the burial is unspecified in the Bahá’í writings, though Bahá’u’lláh’s says that “the sooner the burial taketh place, the more fitting and preferable.” We gain some idea of the context of this statement in Shoghi Effendi’s explanation that in the Orient the practice is to bury the person within 24 hours of the time of death.
Bahá’ís are not to be embalmed or cremated, unless required by law, as our teachings require both that the body be treated with great respect and that it be allowed to decompose naturally, with no means used to hasten its decomposition.
After death, the body is to be washed carefully and wrapped in a shroud . . . Though it is not specified in the Bahá’í law, it has been the custom among the Bahá’ís of Iran to perfume the body as well, with attar of rose or another perfume. Subsequently, the body should be wrapped in white cloth, preferably silk, though cotton is also mentioned.
The deceased should also be buried wearing a Bahá’í burial ring, customarily placed upon the forefinger.
The coffin used to bury the deceased should be made, in the words of the Aqdas, “of crystal, stone, or hard fine wood (oaks, maple, hickory, birch, beech and cherry).
The body must be placed in the grave in such a position that the feet point towards ‘Akká (the Qiblih).
In a Tablet of the Master’s, He emphasizes the need for the cemetery to have a beautiful outward appearance and . . . each one should have a flower bed around its four sides. He also indicates that it would be pleasing if a pool were located in the center of the cemetery and beautiful trees were planted around it as well as around the cemetery itself.
According to Bahá’í law, there is just one ceremonial requirement at a Bahá’í funeral, and that is the recitation of the Prayer for the Dead. This prayer should be recited by one believer only, at the graveside, with all those present standing. Other prayers may be chosen as well, and the service should be very simple and dignified. All of the arrangements for the service and the burial is left to the family of the deceased and no fixed form for funeral services should be adopted or imposed upon the friends.
To minimize stress on your remaining family members, you might want to purchase your burial shroud and burial ring ahead of time, so it’s on hand when needed.
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the House of Justice sent the following guidance:
In relation to the current health crisis, the House of Justice advises that public safety must be diligently and thoroughly observed by all believers. Although Bahá’í law concerning the burial of the dead is clear, yet in case of serious and contagious diseases, whatever advice the health authorities provide must be followed.
In a Tablet that addresses the question of whether cremation of bodies is permissible in the event of contagious diseases, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá confirms that hygiene and protection are the highest priority. Thus, for example, believers from Bahá’í communities in the East who have customarily washed and shrouded the bodies of the deceased may refrain from such observances in relation to a Bahá’í who has died from the coronavirus disease, in order to avoid exposure. Even should authorities mandate cremation of the deceased, there would be no objection to observing such a requirement in light of the guidance of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
As to the Prayer for the Dead, there is no stipulation that it must be recited at the graveside—only that it be said before the interment of the body takes place. It may even be recited in a private setting.
If government health authorities have not provided advice on the handling of remains during this health crisis, or the advice is not sufficiently specific as it bears on the application of Bahá’í law, the National Spiritual Assembly may, following consultation with medical experts and seeking the advice of the Counsellors, provide guidance to believers about how the principles set forth above may be applied. (on behalf of The Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 8 April 2020)
3. Record how you want your Baha’i literature, files, and records to be disposed of. Baha’i books may be donated to individuals, to the local Baha’i library or a library in a larger centre. If you have files of interest to the archives, you might want to have them sent to your National Assembly.
4. Identify that you want to ensure that your children receive Baha’i training, and who might be willing to make sure this is done.
5. Donations to the Baha’i Fund. If you want a portion of your estate to go to the Baha’i Fund, make sure you specify which fund (local, national, international, continental, World Centre Endowment, deputization, International Baha’i Development Fund). For more information on how to best approach this, you might want to consult your national treasurer.
6. Arrange for the payment of Huququ’lláh (Right of God), if it hasn’t been paid prior to your death:
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. (Universal House of Justice, to an individual, 1 July 1996)
For further clarification, you are encouraged to consult the Deputy Trustee of Huqúqu’lláh in your area.
7. A concluding statement.
Here is what I have at the end of mine:
I have set forth such good deeds as I wish to be realized, that these may stand as my testimony in the worlds of revelation and be as a treasure, stored up with my Lord, the Protector, the Trusted One.
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