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Is it permissible to pay off a deceased person’s debts with zakat?

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Amjad Rasheed
Translated by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

If someone dies while in debt, and his estate is not sufficient to pay off all his debt, is it permissible for one to use one’s zakat to pay off the remainder of the debts, given that he falls into the category of “those in debt”?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The scholars of our school have explicitly stated—in the Tuhfa 7.157, for example, and elsewhere—that someone in debt who dies and whose estate falls short of the money required to pay off his debts may not receive zakat.

They explained this by saying that the deceased either (a) took the loan for a forbidden purpose, or (b) took it for a permissible purpose. In the first case, he is ineligible for zakat, whether alive or dead. In the second case, [although he would be eligible for zakat when alive], he is not eligible for zakat while dead because he no longer needs the money in the sense that it is no longer demanded from him in this world: the only reason we give zakat to someone in debt is in to relieve him from the this-worldly difficulty of being demanded to pay back his debt.

السؤال: مات شخصٌ وعليه ديون لا تفي أمواله في سدادها، فهل يجوز دفع بقيةُ الديون من الزكاة؛ لأنه غارم؟

الجواب: صرَّح أئمتُنا كما في “التحفة” (7/157) وغيرها: أن الغارمَ إذا مات وليس معه ما يَفِي بدَيْنه لا يُعطى من الزكاة، قالوا: لأنه إن عصى بذلك الدين فواضحٌ أنه لا يُعْطى، وإن لم يَعْصِ به فهو غيرُ محتاجٍ إليه؛ لأنه لا يطالب به في الدنيا، ونحنُ نعطي الغارمَ من الزكاة لندفعَ عنه مشقةُ المطالبة في الدنيا

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