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Importance of wills for expats in the UAE

A will is a legal document that is concerned with the distribution of assets to the dependents, and appointing a guardian for the minor children in the house.

Wills in the UAE

  • The Sharia law governs the wills and inheritance in the UAE.
  • Under the Sharia law:
    1. There will be forced heirship for 2/3 of the estate. This estate will include all the assets, without discharging any liabilities.
    2. The sons get twice the daughter’s share
    3. If the wife dies, the husband will get 1/4 if they have children and 1/2 if there are no children.
    4. If the husband dies, the wife will get 1/8 if they have children and 1/4 if they did not have any children
    5. Guardianship goes to the eldest male member on the husband’s side.
  • In the absence of a will, a non-Muslim expat will also be subject to follow the Sharia law for the inheritance of the assets and guardianship of the minors.
  • If a non-Muslim expat does not want to be subject to follow the UAE Civil law of Sharia and wants to register a will under Common law, can do so under the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts.
  • The DIFC has designed a Wills Registry for non-Muslims in the UAE. This helps simplify the process of preparing a will in the UAE without following the Sharia law. The government allows non-Muslims to opt-out of the Sharia law and follow their home country law for inheritance.

Wills prepared by expats in their home country

  • It is often noted that non-Muslim expats prefer drafting their will in their home country.
  • The will drafted in another country can be recognized by the UAE Courts upon death if the will is notarized by the Public Notary in the UAE.
  • The will must be translated in Arabic and should mention all the assets, liabilities, and bank account details of the testator. This should then be submitted to the Public Notary.
  • If an individual makes a will in UAE, this will not necessarily eliminate the previous wills made by him in his home country; if the new will does not explicitly mention to revoke previous wills prepared. The previous will can be revoked depending on the wordings and home country laws.

Absence of will for expats in the UAE

  • For expats, passing away without a will in the UAE results in many challenges after the death, as the assets will be distributed in accordance with the Sharia law.
  • If there are assets in the UAE and your home country, after death, they will be distributed in a way that may not be favorable to your wishes.
  • In the absence of a will on death, all the bank accounts under your name (joint or individual) and assets in the UAE will be frozen as under the Sharia law for all the liabilities until your estate is dealt with in the UAE Courts.
  • The custodian and guardianship will be decided as per the Court’s discretion.

It is in the best interest of every expat in the UAE to prepare a will in advance as per their wishes and the home country laws they would prefer to apply to the will. Once there is a will in place, you can approach a will drafting lawyer in Dubai that provides the necessary attorney services, to help notarize your will in the Public Notary and register the will before the Judicial department of the pertinent emirate.

Hazim Darwish

Hazim Darwish, is a Senior Partner of HHS Lawyers in UAE. Practicing law for almost a decade, he has in-depth knowledge on UAE legislation with particular expertise on legal drafting, contract drafting, labor disputes, family law, and regulatory compliance for business organizations. Hazim Darwish also provides counsel on legal rights and obligations in the UAE to clients, including individuals and businesses subject to investigation or prosecution under Criminal Law by major regulators.