The ordeal a Pakistani woman has to undergo to get her inheritance
ast year, I lost my mother. It was a sudden death and I have still to come to terms with it. The loss of a parent is inconsolable in itself; it becomes unbearable when it is accompanied by the burden of material responsibilities. One of those is the long, tiring journey to succession. It is particularly daunting for a Muslim woman in Pakistan.
Every man or woman is entitled to his or her parents’ assets upon their death. The practice is common to most legal systems and religions. However, for a Muslim woman, especially in Pakistan, exercising the right can be very challenging. My purpose in sharing my experience here is to help prepare women like myself for what they may have to go through and to bring to the notice of the authorities concerned the painful bottlenecks that can probably be removed.
I am an only daughter, hence as per shariah, my mother’s assets were to be shared between me and her other blood relatives: her brother and sister. I had to go through arduous procedures to get them to register with the relevant authorities, in order to be able to file the claim for succession.
In Pakistan, all documents related to a succession certificate, which lists the assets of a deceased person to be distributed amongst heirs, are registered and acquired at the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA). After getting the basic documents like the death certificate I believed that I was ready to file for succession (for which previously heirs approached a court), I was told that since I was an only daughter and my mother had no male offspring, I had to include her other blood relatives among the list of heirs, especially since the NADRA database indicated their presence. To be able to do that, they had to provide their biometrics; that was the hard part.
My aunt lives in London. She had to visit the Pakistan High Commission for the procedure. Considering she is in good health despite her age is a consolation, but the pandemic was a big worry. My uncle, on the other hand, is based in Karachi. He is aged and suffers from a semi-paralytic condition. We had to appeal to many contacts in the NADRA to be able to send a mobile van at his residence twice for obtaining the biometrics. At one point this appeared to be impossible since due to his age the fingerprints have become hard to scan. To make it harder still, we had to arrange a video call at NADRA to ascertain my uncle’s identity. After several visits, calls and follow-ups at the NADRA a breakdown loomed.
To complete the procedure, I had to travel from Lahore to Karachi thrice in a year, scheduling a visit every time I could travel without sacrificing my work as an educationist. Only after the procedure was completed, could I apply for and receive the succession certificate, which when received by the various financial institutions holding my mother’s assets, paved the way for their acquisition.
Many a times during my ordeal, I came close to giving up, breaking down and questioning my judgment in pursuing what seemed to be a futile course of action. I had to keep my resolve while making arrangements for stay, travel and a part of living expenses in another city. Thankfully, I was supported by my immediate relatives. On many occasions, I imagined how it would have hurt my mother to know the trouble her daughter would have to go through to get what was hers.
Under shariah law, I inherited one-half of my mother’s assets; the remaining was distributed between my uncle and my aunt. I am not questioning the law. However, I feel that the institutional process can be made easier to facilitate female heirs. They should be facilitated rather than being put in a situation where they should think of giving up.
Based on my experience, I believe that when they informed that my uncle and aunt would be required to participate in the process of acquiring the succession certificate, the facilitators in the succession certificate unit should have had solutions for any problems that arose. For example, if an heir is unable to visit the centre for whatever reason, one should be able to simply fill a form to apply for a mobile van to goes to their residence and acquire the biometrics. If the fingerprints cannot be scanned, the facilitator should have the knowledge and authority to complete the process through facial recognition. Considering the provisions already exist at the NADRA, these should be implemented right away. There should be officers in the waiting area to inform all applicants that the NADRA does provide an online facility for foreign based Pakistanis to provide biometrics.
Once distant relatives are included, the cooperation one may receive can only be a matter of luck. But the bureaucratic procedures should be accommodating. If I was not fortunate enough to possess resources to provide for my travels between the two cities, my living expenses and my stay, not to forget the overwhelming support and sincerity of my relatives, how would I have been able to pursue the lengthy process? How many women in Pakistan are supported and encouraged by their husbands and other immediate relatives to spend time and energy on such quests? How many women in Pakistan have received the education needed to understand the entire process? How many women can count on receiving sound and honest advice on such matters?
I believe all parents should discuss the issue of inheritance with their daughters while there is time. Drawing up a will in one’s life time that takes into account all legalities and possible obstacles, will greatly help the relevant be prepared and suitably facilitated in receiving their share.
The author is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has keen interest in and writes on issues related to women, religion, history and society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org