The rules for inheritance and wills included in Law No. 59 of 1953, which was based on Islamic law, are far more comprehensive and detailed than similar rules provided in the personal status laws for the country’s remaining religious groups. The broad outlines of such rules are generally similar across religious groups, but differ in some details. Below we review the most important points where such rules differ and resemble one another, especially for degrees of kinship, distribution of estates, Amiri lands, and barriers to inheritance.
Degrees of kinship
In the personal status laws of various religious groups, the rules for inheritance are based on one main rule: the transfer of inheritance to those with the closest degrees of kinship to the deceased. However, various laws may have different ways of determining kinship. Law No. 59 of 1953 defines the degrees of kinship entitled to inheritance as having three main categories. Kinship of the first (and highest) degree includes a deceased person’s closest surviving relatives, such as their father, grandfather, maternal uncle, spouse, daughters, son’s daughters, aunts and uncles, mother, and grandmother. Second are male descendants such as sons and the male offsprings of sons. Third are certain female relatives, such as paternal and maternal aunts.
However, Law No. 31 of 2006, which applies to members of Syria’s Catholic denominations, divides the degrees of kinship into three different categories. First are the deceased person’s children, grandchildren, and their descendents; second are the parents of the deceased; and third are the deceased’s grandparents.
The degrees of kinship set out in Laws No. 7 of 2011 (for the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Othodox sects), No. 4 of 2012 (for the Armenian Orthodox sect), and No. 2 of 2017 (for the Evangelical sect) largely resemble those in Law No. 31. However, the last two give priority to the brothers and sisters of a deceased person over grandparents.
Rules for wills among Druze
Under Law No. 59 of 1953, a deceased person’s inheritance may not exceed one-third of their total estate, and it is not permissible to make a bequest to an heir. However, this is not the case for the Druze, who may distribute their estates as they please, based on provisions special to the Druze sect laid out in Article 307, Paragraph J. of Law No. 59. In the cases where the deceased person did not specify the amount to distribute from their estate, the principles laid out in Law No. 59 and its amendments would be consulted.
Rules for distributing inheritance
Among the differences between Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 and the personal status laws upheld by Syria’s various sects is the mechanism for determining the amount of inheritance each inheritor is entitled to receive. All of the special sect-related laws adhere to the rule of equal inheritance between female and male heirs, while Law No. 59 uses the principle of “double inheritance” – that is, male heirs receive double the inheritance of female heirs who share the same degree of kinship, such as brothers and sisters. However, in some cases Law No. 59 grants women greater inheritance than men.
An estate is all the assets, real estate, movable properties, and other rights that a person leaves behind after their death. All of the various personal status laws agree that part of the estate must first be used to cover the costs of preparation and burial for the deceased. A second portion must go to paying off their debts and a third to their will. The remainder is divided among their heirs.
Under Law No. 59 of 1953, the entirety of the estate will be distributed, i.e. the deceased person’s movable assets, real estate, and other properties, after fulfilling the obligations outlined above. However, Christian denominations do not consider the marital home to be among the assets that must be distributed after someone’s death as part of the estate. According to the personal status laws of these denominations, the marital home may not be considered part of an estate to be distributed to others until after the death of the surviving spouse, unless that surviving spouse has decided to leave the home.
If a deceased person has no heirs, then their estate goes to the state’s public treasury, according to all personal status laws. The one exception is in Law No. 31 of 2006, which addresses the Catholic denominations. Under Article 180 of this law, the estate of a deceased person with no heirs goes in its entirety to the endowments of the sect to which they belong.
The Law on Transfer of Immovable Amiri Properties, issued in 1928, sets provisions for transferring the possession of such properties to inheritors. Under this law, female and male inheritors are held in equal regard if they are of the same degree of kinship with the deceased. However, Law No. 4 of 2012, which applies to the Armenian Orthodox community, and Law No. 7 of 2011, which applies to the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox, explicitly state that their special provisions apply instead if the estate includes Amiri or “mulk” lands.
Barriers to religious inheritance
Among the most prominent barriers to inheritance is when the heir belongs to a different religion from the deceased person. However, this is not the case with the Evangelical community, whose Law No. 2 of 2017 states that religious differences between the heir and the inheritor are not barriers to inheritance, so long as there is reciprocity.
All personal status laws also state that an heir who kills the inheritor may not receive an inheritance from that person. In such cases, the murderer’s share is distributed to the remaining heirs.