How to claim inheritance if the beneficiaries are not UAE residents?

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In recent years, the government of the United Arab Emirates has enacted many ground-breaking changes to the Islamic personal law promoting multiculturalism and progressivism.

The latest changes explicitly allow ex-pats to use the law of their home country for inheritance matters, but in the event that a registered will exists, the terms recorded in the will be followed. This is a landmark change as compared to the previous provisions that mandated that the Islamic sharia law would apply in matters concerning inheritance when the deceased dies intestate. With the new changes, however, in such circumstances, the personal law of the deceased will be applicable.

Further to the above-mentioned provisions, for non-muslim foreigners who have either his or her domicile or place of residence or place of work in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the provisions of the newly enacted decree-law on ‘Personal status for non-Muslims in the emirate of Abu Dhabi’ will apply.

Pursuant to the same, in inheritance matters:

  • An ex-pat may nominate his inheritance as per his express wishes and also assign any person of his choice and leave them with his will concerning all of his assets in the UAE;
  • Further, in case a foreigner dies intestate (without a will), then pursuant to article 11(2) of the new decree, half of his estate shall go to the spouse, and the remaining half shall be divided equally between the children (whether male or female).In the absence of children, the remaining half of the estate shall be vested to the parents of the deceased on an equal basis, and in the instance of the absence of either, such portion of the state shall be vested with the siblings of the deceased in equal shares (whether male or female).

Needless to say, the right approach is to have a will in place and to ensure that depending on the emirate of residence, further steps are taken into account to validate the will. For instance, in the emirate of Dubai, a valid will has to be recorded with either the DIFC wills and probate centre or attested through the Dubai Courts.

While in the emirate of Abu Dhabi the steps are different, especially with the applicability of the newly introduced decree. Often ex-pats also face further hurdles in executing a will, especially when the beneficiaries are not UAE residents. In such instances, it is best to appoint inheritance lawyers, who will initiate both inheritance and execution steps on behalf of the deceased. It is also critical to take appropriate legal advice, especially in the early stages of drafting a will to ensure its validity and compliance pursuant to the UAE laws and further to ensure the right choice of law as per the ex-pats.

The new changes have now amended the stricter Islamic laws and modernized several elements of the family and personal law, including matters concerning inheritance, to keep pace with changing times. The amendments aim to strike a delicate balance between celebrating the heritage and culture of the Emirates and creating a modern society endowed with laws that reflect its diverse obligations.

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