Inheritance Principles For Non-Muslims In The United Arab Emirates



In every part of the world, laws govern the citizens and define where individuals belong. Inheritance principles for non-muslims in the United Arab Emirates are stipulated by the Islamic Sharia law (also known as Sharia), which establishes the fundamentals of inheritance and succession. Sharia is a religious form of law mainly; sourced from the Quran and the Sunnah (sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH[1]) and regulates most aspects of the lives of Muslims, such as moral, family, personal status, charity, community life, and inheritance, among others.

The Personal Affairs Law applies to all UAE citizens except non-Muslims. It also applies to all expatriate residents, regardless of their faith, unless they ask for the application of their national law[2]. In line with the Personal Affairs Law, the Civil Code also provides that inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased[3], understood as the law of the deceased’s own country or the community at the time of death.

In any case, while dealing with inheritance principles for non-muslims in the United Arab Emirates, the Court of First Instance of the Family Division of the Dubai Courts would always consider UAE law principles, such as the mandatory compliance of the relevant foreign law with the country’s public order and morals[4].

Importance Of The Wills

The application of foreign law by the UAE Courts is not automatic: evidence of the election of such foreign law will be required. A will previously executed and attested at the “Wills and Estates Registry for non-Muslims” in the Dubai Courts (Dubai Courts Registry), for instance, serves that purpose. The law of the testator may govern this type of will. It may include any assets despite a provision of the Civil Code stating that the UAE law applies to real estate properties located in the country and disposed of by foreigners in their wills.

Eventually, the Dubai Courts treated freehold property as an exception to the rule, allowing the distribution of such properties under the deceased’s will. However, this scenario may change with the recent issuance of Dubai Law No. (15) of 2017 Concerning Administration of Non-Muslim Estates in Dubai and Execution of their Wills (Dubai Law), published in the Official Gazette in early November 2017. The Dubai Law brought clarity to this issue, stating that the law of the Emirate of Dubai applies to inheritance principles for non-muslims in the United Arab Emirates or wills that include real property.

In the absence of a will, the local Courts will likely apply the rules of Sharia. Suppose the deceased left a will registered at the Dubai Courts Registry. In that case, the heirs’ probate stage will need to be brought forward, in addition to the registered will, a copy of the relevant foreign legislation (legalized and translated to Arabic). Sharia law shall be applied by default if these or other requirements are not met. In such a case, the interested parties may appeal to the Court of Appeal, and if the decision is still not favourable, the last resort is the Court of Cassation.

The DIFC Wills And Probate Registry

In addition to the Dubai Courts Registry option, an effective alternative is very popular in the UAE among non-Muslim expatriates: the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (DIFC Registry).

The DIFC Registry is a wills registry for non-Muslims based inside the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a financial free zone with its regulations and its own Courts and Dispute Resolution Authority, governed by common law as opposed to Sharia or Civil law. The DIFC Registry is a public entity of the Government of Dubai and was established under the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts.

The validity of a DIFC Registry’s will is regulated by DIFC law, thus ensuring testamentary freedom. It covers both movable and immovable assets (real estate, bank accounts, companies’ shares, etc.) owned by the testator at the time of his death and located in the Emirate of Dubai, and more recently, in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. A property will, a free zone company will, and financial assets are also types of wills available to testators at the DIFC Registry subject to certain special conditions.

From a practical standpoint, it is worth noting that the DIFC Registry’s will is executed only in English and, in case of the death of the testator, it is enforced by DIFC Courts, hence eliminating the possibility of application of Sharia law in non-Muslim individual’s probates.

For further assistance on how to handle safely matters related to inheritances and will in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or any family law related issues in the UAE, kindly contact us, or you can book an appointment for online support on any legal matters in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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