Succession issues: The legal process and components

If you’re considering writing a will, it must first be understood what a ‘Will’ is, and most importantly, what are the laws and regulations surrounding this topic in the UAE.

The thought of writing a Will is never pleasant – people tend to avoid thinking about one’s own mortality but it is necessary, especially for expatriates. And even more so, it is imperative for expatriates with children living in Dubai. But, if you’re considering writing a will, it must first be understood what a Will is.

Under the UAE law, a Will is a disposition by a person over his estate, which is deferred until after his death. In simple terms, it is a document that distributes one’s assets after his/her death. Because the UAE is a Muslim country dominated by an expatriate society, this makes the matter of Wills and laws of inheritance a bit complex.

Common misconceptions

Unfortunately, misconceptions are abundant when the topic of Wills is brought up. There are many theories that are thrown around when an expatriate (Muslim or non-Muslim) dies in the Emirate of Dubai. Here are just a few common ones:

The laws of the expatriate’s home country will prevail when distributing his/her assets

First and foremost, anyone in Dubai who dies without a Will, his/her assets will be distributed as per Shariah law. This rule is not dependent upon a decedent’s nationality, ethnicity, or religion – everyone (Muslim or Non-Muslim) is subject to this rule. While Muslims may be a bit more prepared for the distribution, Non-Muslims may have an extremely hard time coping with this, especially if the decedent has children living in Dubai.

With or without a Will, if a decedent was married, all his/her assets will automatically transfer to his/her spouse.

Unlike many other jurisdictions, the UAE does not recognize a principle known as the “Right of Survivor-ship.” This particular right gives any property, jointly held by the decedent and his/her spouse, immediately to the spouse upon the death of the other. Unfortunately, this right is not recognized in Dubai. As stated above, the default rules of Dubai is Shariah law and this particular right is against Shariah law principles.

It is important to get a Will if you own real property in Dubai.

The laws of Dubai are particularly difficult when it comes to rules of inheritance and immovable (or real) property. While a Non-Muslim can have his/her movable assets disbursed in accordance with the laws of the home country through a Will, this principle is not as definite when it comes to real property. In the case of inheritance under UAE law, the law of where the real property is located applies. There are ways to go around this particular law but such avenues should not be utilized without the consultation of a legal advisor.

Writing a will? Here’s what to do

Non-Muslim expatriates have the option of writing a will and filing it in either the Dubai International Financial Center Courts or with the Dubai Courts. Each avenue has its own unique procedures to follow in order for the Will to be recognized and legalized in the Emirate of Dubai, so guidance is highly recommended. When determining which path to take, several factors come into consideration such as expenses, where your assets are located, and availability of professionals to draft the Will.

Muslims’ assets will be distributed as per Shariah law but they are allowed to disperse the remaining one-third of their assets through a Will registered with the Dubai Courts, only.

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