In recent years, the United Arab Emirates government has made many groundbreaking changes to Islamic personal law that promote multiculturalism and progressiveness.
The latest changes specifically allow expats to use their home country law for inheritance matters, but in the event that a registered will exists, the terms and conditions set out in the will will be followed. This is a breakthrough change from the previous provision that required Islamic Sharia law to apply to inheritance matters when the deceased dies in will. However, with the new changes, the personal law of the deceased will apply in such circumstances.
In addition to the above provisions, non-Muslim foreigners who either have their place of residence or place of residence or work in the emirate of Abu Dhabi are subject to the provisions of the newly enacted legislative decree on the status of non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Accordingly, the following applies in inheritance matters:
- An ex-pat can appoint his heir according to his express will and can also appoint any person of his choice and leave them in his will in relation to all his property in the UAE;
- If a foreigner dies without a will, in accordance with Article 11 (2) of the new decree, half of his estate goes to the spouse and the remaining half is divided equally between the children (whether male or female). If there are no children, the remaining half of the estate is transferred in equal parts to the deceased’s parents, and in the event of their absence, that part of the state is transferred with the deceased’s siblings in equal parts (whether male or female).
It goes without saying that it is correct to make a will and to ensure that further steps to confirm the will are considered depending on the emirate of residence. In the Emirate of Dubai, for example, a valid will must either be registered with the DIFC Wills and Legacy Center or notarized by the Dubai Courts.
While in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi the steps are different, especially with the applicability of the newly introduced decree. Ex-Pats are often faced with further hurdles when executing wills, especially if the beneficiaries are not residents of the UAE. In such cases, it is best to appoint an inheritance attorney to initiate both probate and enforcement measures on behalf of the deceased. It is also critically important to seek appropriate legal advice, especially in the early stages of drawing up a will, to ensure its validity and compliance under UAE law, as well as ensuring the correct choice of law for the expats.
The new changes have now complemented stricter Islamic laws and modernized several elements of family and personal law, including inheritance issues, to keep up with the times. The changes aim to strike a delicate balance between celebrating the heritage and culture of the Emirates and creating a modern society endowed with laws that reflect its multiple obligations.