What are the inheritance laws in the UAE? All you need to know

inheritance, will
Inheritance matters in the UAE are governed primarily by two Federal laws: The Personal Status Law and the UAE Civil Code. Image Credit: Stock photo/Shutterstock

Dubai: If you die intestate or without a will in the UAE, what are the inheritance laws that would be applied to the assets you leave behind? To get a better understanding of how your demise may affect your loved ones, it is essential to understand the inheritance laws in the UAE as well as recent amendments.

Gulf News spoke with Mazen Boustany, Partner at UAE-based law firm Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, who said that under UAE laws it was always envisaged that it would be your own national law that would apply in matters of inheritance.

“However, since the courts looking into probates in the UAE were Sharia Courts, they were applying Sharia law, which meant that a non-Muslim had to go to appeal courts and even to the Supreme Court to have their own laws prevail,” he said.

What the law says

Inheritance matters in the UAE are governed primarily by two Federal laws: The Personal Status Law and the UAE Civil Code. The way the laws are worded, however, needs careful attention to understand how they come into effect.

Personal Status Law

The Personal Status Law governs marriage, divorce, inheritance and other personal affairs in the UAE, and is based on principles of Sharia law. However, an amendment to the law is applicable in case of an expatriate’s demise.

“The amendment of Article 1 of the Personal Status Law provides in Clause 3 that ‘this law applies on non-Nationals unless someone insists on the application of its own national law, without prejudice, however, to Articles 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 27 and 28 of the Civil Transaction Law’. Article 17 of the Civil Transactions Law provides that the inheritance shall be governed by the national law of the deceased,” Boustany said.

Civil Transactions Law

Article 17 of the Civil Transactions Law states that:

1. Inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death.

2. Property rights located in the territory of the State which belong to an alien having no heir shall become vested in the State.

3. The substantive provisions governing testamentary dispositions and other dispositions taking effect after death shall be governed by the law of the state of which the person making such dispositions is a national at the time of his death.

4. The form of wills and other dispositions taking effect after death shall be governed by the law of the state of which the person making such disposition is a national at the time the disposition is made, or the law of the state in which the disposition is made.

5. The law of the United Arab Emirates shall apply to wills made by aliens disposing of their real property located in the State.

“According to the article, the law of the deceased shall apply to his inheritance. So, in essence, a foreigner who dies in the UAE should have his or her own national law applied to his or her inheritance and estate located in the UAE, except the case where the foreigner has no heirs,” Boustany said.

So, in essence, a foreigner who dies in the UAE should have his or her own national law applied to his or her inheritance and estate located in the UAE, except the case where the foreigner has no heirs.

– Mazen Boustany, Partner at UAE-based law firm Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla

“There is also an issue of International Private Law touched upon in these articles as they provide that the wills shall be drafted in accordance with UAE laws, however, the substantive law applicable shall be the national law of the deceased on any dispositions including in relation to real estate dispositions,” he added.

Why having a will is important

As Clause 3 of Article 1 of the Personal Status Law (mentioned above) states, the Personal Status Law would apply unless someone insists on the application of his/her own national law.

“I believe that the insistence on the application of the home country’s law is best expressed through a will,” Boustany said.

What happens if you die without a will or intestate?

According to Boustany, as the law discussed above states that Personal Status Law would apply unless someone insists on the application of his or her own national law, the initial law applied when an individual died intestate – or without a will – is Sharia law.

“Court of First Instances looking at inheritance and probates are Sharia courts and the judges apply Sharia [laws], which is why there were several instances where non-Muslim families had to appeal or even to go to a Cassation Court to have their own law applied, as the deceased had never expressed the willingness that his estate be governed by his own national law, which means that a lot of time and costs were incurred,” Boustany said.

So, if you are a non-Muslim expatriate who dies without a will in the UAE, the Court of First Instance may apply Sharia principles to administer the distribution of your assets to your inheritors. If you file an appeal and raise the ruling with a Cassation Court, based on the laws discussed above, the inheritance laws of your home country may then be applied for the distribution of inheritance.

Does the applied law vary if the expatriate is a Muslim or a non-Muslim?

According to Boustany, while the discussion on Personal Status Law and Civil Transactions Law applies if the expatriate is a non-Muslim, for Muslim expatriates, the situation is different, based on how courts have ruled in the past.

“The Courts have considered that a Muslim, whatever his nationality, will have Sharia law applied to him or her. It is unclear whether the situation has changed under the recent amendments to the Personal Status Law. I believe that it would not change,” he said.