Hindu Estate Planning

For Hindus, dana (giving) is an important part of one’s dharma (religious duty). Dharma has a wide variety of meanings such as eternal law, duty, conduct, behaviour, morality and righteousness. Each person has a dharma towards family, society, the world and all living things.

Dharma needs to be seen within the framework of the traditional extended Hindu family, which plays the role of a welfare state. The wealth a person acquires is not for him/herself but for the welfare of the extended family and others. One has a responsibility towards those members of one’s family who cannot maintain themselves. In some circumstances an individual may have no option but to give up or compromise his/her personal goals for the sake of the family. In short, ‘giving’ begins at home but extends beyond home.

Different types of giving

The well known Hindu text the Bhagavadgita speaks of three types of giving:

  • A gift that is given without any expectation of appreciation or reward is beneficial to both giver and recipient.
  • A gift that is given reluctantly and with the expectation of some advantage is harmful to both giver and recipient.
  • A gift that is given without any regard for the feelings of the recipient and at the wrong time, so causing embarrassment to the recipient, is again harmful to both giver and recipient.

(Bhagavadgita 17.20-22)

Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the quality of goodness.

Any giving that is motivated by selfish considerations loses its value from the spiritual point of view.

Chapter 17: The Divisions of Faith


datavyam iti yad danam

diyate ‘nupakarine

dese kale ca patre ca

tad danam sattvikam smrtam

It is not so much wealth that brings happiness and peace but our attitude to possessions. Hindu philosophical texts such as the Isa Upanishad (1) point to the fact that true enjoyment and peace lie in detachment from wealth. We are not asked to renounce wealth but rather our sense of possession. Whatever we give will have no value if we part with our wealth reluctantly.