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Non-Muslims Expats must write a will Even after the UAE's Inheritance Law

Why Non-Muslims Expats must write a will Even after the UAE’s Inheritance Law Has Changed?

As ex-pats, we are concerned about understanding inheritance provisions and how UAE courts implement them. In personal matters such as Inheritance and Wills, recent legal developments in the UAE have made it easier for ex-pats to follow the laws of their home country. On November 7, 2020, amendments to the Personal Status Code and Civil Legislation were published, giving expatriates in the UAE the option of choosing which Law applies to their Inheritance. Even though the legislation relating to Wills and Inheritance was recently modified, this article will provide an insight into the importance of an ex-pat writing a Will in the UAE.

What has changed in the Law relating to Inheritance?

Before the New Amendment of 2020:

The following two (2) federal laws govern wills and related activities in the UAE: 

  • Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 on Personal Status; and
  • Federal Law No. 05 of 1985 on Civil Code.

In the United Arab Emirates, Sharia is the primary basis of inheritance law, and Federal Laws are based on it. The two primary legislation regulating succession are the Civil Transactions Code (Federal Law No. 5 of 1985) and the Personal Status Law (Federal Law No. 28 of 2005).

  1. Until a non-Muslim elects otherwise, Article 1(2) of the Personal Law states that the provisions of this Law apply to non-citizens unless one of them insists on adopting the Law of their nation. As a result, if a non-Muslim foreign person dies in the state and leaves real estate or other assets in the country, the Law of his home country may apply, and his heirs may claim in court.
  2. On the other hand, article 17(1) of the Civil Transactions Code (Civil Law) stipulates that the testator’s Inheritance is governed by the legislation in effect in his state at the time of his death.

The Personal Law of the United Arab Emirates permitted non-Muslims to make a Will and distribute their assets according to their preferences. Before the amendment, the UAE’s Personal Law allowed non-Muslims to write a Will and share their assets according to their wishes. However, if a foreign person dies without a will, the Civil Law and Personal Law empowered the courts to divide the deceased’s possessions according to Sharia principles.

you may also read Inheritance Sharia Law in UAE Law

What has changed Now (Amendment of 2020)?

The new revisions relating to the Inheritance and Will now allow ex-pats and foreigners with real estate investments in the UAE to specify in their Wills which legislation they want to apply to transfer their UAE assets.  Article 17(3) of the Civil Code Law states that the State law of the deceased determines how a person’s property is distributed among his or her family members. An individual’s Inheritance will be given according to their state’s law at the time of death, regardless of religion. In the case of a written Will, it will be carried out according to the provisions outlined in the Will. In addition, if there is no Will or the appropriate legislation is not stated in the Will, the deceased’s state laws will apply.

The situation where the Real-estate situated in UAE and Individual dies without making Will

According to Article 17(5) of the Civil Code Law, if a person purchased a property in the UAE and dies intestate (without making a will), the property will be subject to Sharia law. In other words, the changes to the Civil Code do not apply to real estate. The absence of a registered Will in the UAE means that the deceased’s real estate will be divided according to Sharia guidelines.

Why you must consider writing a Will even after the Amendment of 2020 

It is strongly advised that you must have a registered Will in the UAE to protect your possessions or assets situated in the UAE. Here are a few of the reasons behind this:

  1. Guardians of minors

If you have minor children under 21 years of age, you must choose legal guardians for them through a registered Will. It enables you to protect your minor children. In the husband’s death, the wife does not automatically become the legal guardian of minor children. Making a will in Dubai may guarantee that your possessions are distributed according to your wishes. It also ensures that your children are cared for by someone you trust.

  1. Real estate distribution

The amendment addressing the option of home country law for distribution after death does not apply to real estate. In such a situation, your assets will be distributed as per Sharia Law under Article 17(5) of the Civil Code.  Real estate may only be distributed to a beneficiary of your choice if you have a Will in place that names the beneficiary.

  1. Option of naming beneficiaries

If a member of your close family dies before you, a Will permits you to name substitute beneficiaries to transfer your assets. You may make sure that only the individuals you name in your Will receive your assets.

  1. Will helps to carry out the deceased intentions

The family will face additional costs and difficulty claiming ownership of the assets without Will. Proving the home country’s legislation provisions might take time and money, especially if the relevant extracts of the home country’s Law need to be legalized or certified. A registered Will helps the courts to carry out the deceased person’s intentions promptly.

  1. Give you inner satisfaction

Writing a Will gives expats satisfaction by ensuring that their ultimate desires are carried out according to their preferences rather than those of a foreign court. A Will allows you to express your desires regarding your assets in detail. Because finances and assets are frozen upon death and cannot be accessed without a court order, drafting a Will can offer you comfort that your family members will not have any difficulties in determining each person’s portion.

If you are a non-Muslim residing in the United Arab Emirates, make sure you write and register your Will as soon as possible to avoid any future complications.

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the Subject. The first step in registering your Will is to contact a registered lawyer who can prepare your Will following the UAE law. It is crucial since the Will won’t be enforced if you don’t meet the fundamental legal criteria. Contact HHS Lawyers and Legal Consultants for more information on drafting and Registration of Will.

M. Al Khairy, LL.B. 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. M. Al Khairy 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. Read more