The Volokh Conspiracy

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Foreign Law in American Courts

No Application of Iranian Inheritance Law in Maryland Court


From In re Estate of Ahmad, decided Mar. 23 by the Maryland intermediate appellate court, in an opinion by Judge Dan Friedman, joined by Justices Douglas Nazarian and Terrence Zic:

The decedent, Mehdi Ahmad, was born in Iran in 1923…. In 1982, after being summoned to appear before the Islamic Revolutionary Court, Mehdi left Iran and traveled to Turkey. Shortly thereafter, Mehdi immigrated to the United States and settled in Maryland…. In 1996, Mehdi became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Mehdi died on November 30, 2018.

Mehdi's will disinherited Mehdi's eldest son, M. Abraham Ahmad, who tried to challenge it on various grounds, partly on the theory that "under Iranian laws, he inherited an indefeasible fixed portion of Mehdi's estate that automatically vested at his birth and applies to all assets that can be traced to assets that Mehdi owned when Abraham was born in Iran." No, said the court, for various reasons, including this:

Finally, we note that, even if the doctrine of comity {the recognition that one nation may decide to give to the executive, legislative, or judicial acts of another} was applicable here, there are well established limits on its application "when the strong public policies of the forum are vitiated by the foreign act" seeking to be applied…. As a general concept, the Iranian civil law tradition of forced primogeniture heirship conflicts with Maryland's adoption of statutory provisions allowing any competent person aged 18 or older to make a will to dispose of their estate as they see fit.

Moreover, the Islamic primogeniture inheritance laws that Abraham seeks to enforce include provisions that discriminate based on both religion and sex. {See The Civil Code Of The Islamic Republic of Iran [1928], art. 881b ("An unbeliever (Kafir) does not take inheritance from [Muslims] and if there are unbelievers among the heirs of a deceased unbeliever, the unbelieving heirs do not take inheritance even if they are prior to the Muslim as concerns class and degree."); art. 907 ("If there are several children, some being sons and some daughters[,] each son takes twice as much as each daughter.").} To disregard Mehdi's choice as expressed in his will in favor of applying Iranian primogeniture law to Mehdi's estate would be contrary to Maryland public policy. {There is an irony to Abraham's position. The American Revolution overthrew a hereditary patriarchy in favor of republicanism. Although historians debate the effect of the American Revolution on state inheritance laws, it would be unusual if the framers of Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights [the Maryland due process clause] intended for it to be used to force feudal primogeniture on Mehdi's estate. Rather, we understand that Marylanders are and remain free to decide what to do with their estates after death without either the State or religion limiting those choices.}

Congratulations to Todd P. Forster (Futrovsky, Forster & Scherr, Chartered), who represented the estate.