Inheritance includes everything owned by the deceased, even the clothes on the dead body. People tend to give these out in charity without realizing that they belong to what has been left by the deceased. There are places where copper utensils are given out to the poor well before the total property is formally distributed, although minors and absentees from among the inheritors have rights in all such things.
The proper method is to first distribute the property in accordance with whatever shares are to be received by children, wife, parents, sisters and anyone else as stipulated by the Islamic law of inheritance. Once the ownership passes to sharers, it is up to them what they desire to give away in charity on behalf of the deceased. If the receivers of such shares wish to do that jointly, let them make sure that they are all adults, for the permission of the minor is not valid. As far as inheritors who are absent are concerned, nothing can be taken from their shares without their permission.
The sheet spread over the Janazah while carrying the deceased to the graveyard is not part of the required shroud. It is not permissible to buy it from the proceeds of the property left by the deceased, because that is something held jointly. However, if someone was to cover the cost on his own that would be permissible.
There are places where a prayer mat is torn out of the cloth purchased for the shroud and is used by the Imam who leads the janazah prayers. The mat is later given to the Imam. This expense is extra to the needed shroud and it is not permissible to buy it from the proceeds of the hitherto combined inheritance.
In some areas, new utensils are procured for bathing the deceasing and which are broken after use. First of all, there is no need to buy new ones for a bath can be given using utensils already in the house; and if, for any reason, they have to be purchased, then breaking them is not permissible. It not only amounts to wasting of property but also means causing loss to orphans and absent inheritors who due rights are attached to the total property.
Any expenses before the distribution of inheritance, such as entertainment of guests or charity and alms are totally impermissible. Giving charity and alms in this manner brings no merit or reward for the deceased. In fact, such giving under the notion that it will bring good returns for the departed soul is a far greater sin. The reason is simple. After the death of a person all his property belongs to the inheritors in proportion to their respective rights in it. Then, there are orphans among them. Giving away things in charity from the combined property which includes the share of the orphan is like stealing from somebody’s property and giving it in charity on behalf of the deceased. This is not correct. First distribute the property, then, let the inheritors give in charity from their shares for the good of the deceased, if they so desire.
It is better not to go for charity and alms from the combined inheritance even before the actual distribution, even though it be with the permission of inheritors. This is because the permission of whoever is an orphan among the inheritors is not just valid right from the outset. As for the adult ones, it is not necessary that their permission comes out of their willing heart. It is quite possible that they are left with no option but give their permission lest they are disgraced before others. In other words, they may say yes with a heavy heart just to ward off the sense of shame.
Let us look at an anecdote ascribed to a pious elder to further clarify the issue.
This pious elder went to visit a sick Muslim. He had hardly sat with the patient for a while when the latter died. The sage immediately put out the burning lamp there and gave someone the money to buy oil and re-light the lamp with it.
When the people around asked him for the reason, he said that this lamp was under the ownership of this person until such time that he was alive and it was correct to use that light. Now that the deceased has left this mortal world, his inheritors have the necessary right over everything he owned. So, it is only through the permission of all inheritors that we can use this lamp and since all of them are not present here, this lamp was lighted at a personal cost.
(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)