Online Wills Can Help Disadvantaged Muslims: Raymond Gabriel
Updated: May 11, 2022
A corporate lawyer who was scammed and left penniless by his ex-girlfriend’s father, Raymond Gabriel, Group CEO of digital will company CreateWills, turns his anger into motivation and created the first Syariah digital will in Southeast Asia. The social entrepreneur aims to not just lower will writing cost for the Muslim community, but also help families decipher the complexity of estate distribution under Syariah law.
Name: Raymond Gabriel
Position: Group CEO, Co-founder
Base Country: Malaysia
Scam victim turned social entrepreneur
Q: Are you a Muslim? How did you end up creating a Syariah digital will?
Gabriel: No, I am not a Muslim. I have a legal background, and about five years ago, I had a call from two people who are now my business partners. They were working with digital wills in the UK and asked me to join them. I didn’t immediately agree, thought about it a bit more and noticed that there were opportunities in the Syariah will market.
Syariah wills are done manually and consists of two parts, the 30% Hibah portion which you can decide who you want to give, and the remaining 70% is governed by Faraid law and determines the distribution to your family and relatives.
(The application of Muslim law varies in different jurisdictions. Please check with your lawyer on what’s relevant to you)
Syariah law is interesting because as a beneficiary, your inheritance can change based on, for example, whether there are sons, brothers, grandsons and others. It has a lot of permutations and I found that very interesting.
Syariah Online Will
Even though I am doing a lot of corporate work in the legal area, I took up about a year to study Syariah law, work with Islamic scholars and well known people who have written textbooks on Islamic law, and I put together a document that tries to have the most comprehensive Islamic view on estate planning. I went back and spoke to my two partners. I told them that there's this underserved market in the region. Everybody is doing Islamic wills only for the Hibah portion and because Faraid is so complex, digitizing it is difficult.
One of the partner took my document, went back and ended up coding a Faraid algorithm. I went and got compliance to ensure that it’s fully Syariah compliant in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and that’s how our Syariah digital will came about.
This is the first fully digital will in terms of both Hibah and Faraid. As opposed to manual calculation, you can now do it online, enter information on how many wives, sons and other information, click a button, and immediately you see the whole breakdown of who inherits what. The algorithm even tells you who doesn't inherit.
Q: How long has it been in the market?
Gabriel: It has been in the market since May 2019. We started developing it about three and a half years ago, did a year of testing before we launched it.
Q: Is there any trends out there that will expand the digital will market for you?
Gabriel: One thing that has changed in the will industry is the cost of wills. People were doing digital wills the old way, adding charges per clause and per asset that you put in. People have tried to sell complexity to raise the price of goods. They make it complex but if you are an average person, it doesn’t have to be. To be very honest, if you really know the language and how to write it, you can write it on a tissue paper and get it done.
What we’re trying to do is to bring down the cost and standardize the market. We let people use a simple, easy-to-use template and we build the legal clauses in the background. We remove the complexity while reducing the cost and having a comprehensive product. I think that's the value that is going to change people's perception and increase the uptake.
Other factors like electronic signatures which results in full digitization of wills, and the coronavirus pandemic that’s causing people to be more aware of getting their affairs in order, will also drive digital will use.
Q: Who is the target audience for your digital will?
Gabriel: There’s a quote in the Quran, which I read and was confirmed by the Islamic scholars that I've worked with, that says it is not permissible for any Muslim to travel more than two nights a week without having his last will and testament done. It’s in the Quran, it's a statement by Prophet Mohammed and it's almost a religious obligation.
[The Prophet Muhammad ordered all Muslims to prepare a Last Will & Testament
Abdullah Ibn Umar narrated that the messenger of Allah (SAWS) said,
"It is not permissible for any Muslim who has something to will to stay for two nights elsewhere without having his last Will and Testament written and kept ready with him"
When I found it, I asked myself why is it that Muslims don't have a will when it’s a religious obligation? The answer comes down to cost - people can't afford it. They don’t understand Faraid because Faraid is so complex. So I think any Muslim who wants to follow religious obligations and get a will done at a good price would be our target market.
Benefiting Muslim Women
But our more important target group is Muslim women. For example, Muslim women sometimes pay for the house under the husband’s name, for tax and other reasons. When the husband dies, under Faraid, she's only entitled to one eighth of all the assets even though she's paying 50 percent of the house.
However, there are some exceptions in Islam that you can use to protect your family. For example, there's something called a Hibah contract, where you can transfer the property to your wife. A lot of Muslim lawyers can do that. Once the property is transferred, it’s uncontestable.
(Related Story: Muslim Estate Distribution is Bias for Men. Here’s Why)
Another example would be to create a trust for family that holds your kids’ education money and other assets. You don't have to distribute it to the uncles and others, especially when there’s dispute within the relatives, who can be greedy and want your money.
There are many solutions but you are not going to do them if you don't understand how the distribution works. By doing a will using our system, people can understand how the distribution works, find out if their family are going to be disadvantaged and take actions.
That's why there's so much educational elements in our will. I want people to know what they are getting into, what happens when you don't do a will and the difficulties that women face.
Widowed and Homeless
I've heard enough stories, especially among the Muslim community. There was a high level banking officer that I talked to, at first she was very skeptical about our platform because it’s too cheap. Then I explained that I have a social purpose here. I think the entire industry is overcharging and there’s a lot of greed and people can’t afford it.
She turned around and said, “I am a mother and a widow. My husband died and all the brothers forced me out of the house. I was left with my kid and we were all homeless. I admire what you are doing because you're really going to help Muslim women”. She went from being a housewife to getting a PhD in Syariah law focusing on estate planning.
Q: Let’s get personal. Can you tell me more about you?
Gabriel: I’m really interested in finding ways to do good and benefit groups of people and if I happen to profit from it, it’s an added thing. The more important thing is to solve a problem, to solve a community issue and that’s why I got interested in wills. When my partners first talked to me about conventional wills, I wasn’t very interested. But when I saw the problem in the Islamic legal sector, I got interested.
Q: Was there a personal life experience that trigger this whole social entrepreneurship thing?
Gabriel: When I was younger, I was just like everybody else. I wanted to make my first million by 30 years old. And then I got very badly cheated in business by my ex-girlfriend's father.
At 25, he asked me to co-sign loans as a guarantor for the oil & gas company that I worked for. He said “I’m going to make you a director of the company”, “I think you are going to do well” and things like that. There were big contracts that we were bringing in. After I co-sign the loans and came back the next week, the offices were closed and everybody left. He sold off shares in the company and I have nothing left. That made me very angry for a long while because I am a lawyer, how can I be so stupid to trust him just because I think he’s my girlfriend’s father.
The Breaking Point
Of course, the relationship ended and my future father-in-law was behind everything. It was a very difficult time and there was a lot of soul searching for me. In that soul searching, I got an epiphany and felt that maybe I am going through this for a purpose. I always thought doing good is something you do when you are rich. I turned around and wanted to do something good because maybe there are other people who are in the same difficult situation as me. I started working off the debt and got myself financially stable.
This new will company that I am working on, I think it’s going to solve some major issues for the Muslim communities and for people who don’t have wills. I’m very excited about using technology to bring impact and transformation for the communities and people. It’s not that I am a person who’s just doing good and charity. There is a convergence for me between doing a business and having a purpose and that’s work for me.
This interview has been edited for length.
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