All of us come to Dubai longing for a better future and safer environment for our children. All entrepreneurs work hard in Dubai to reach their business aims and succeed. However, when buying a new apartment in Dubai, or opening a new bank account, do you ever think of how your assets in the United Arab Emirates will be protected in case “something happens” with you?
We would like to share our experience and a story which covers something that usually is left unsaid. There was a woman entrepreneur from Russia named Maria. She had a number of properties located all over the world, including Dubai. She was making a lucrative fortune by renting out all of the apartments and villas she owned. Unfortunately, as a result of a terrible accident, Maria passed away. After this occurred, one of her former apartments in the UAE, which was under the management of a real estate company, was slated to be taken over by successors.
As soon as Maria passed away, there were several scam artists who had information about her not having any successors. Using the help of a notary, they were able to forge Maria’s will. After this, they went to Dubai and tried to use the forged will as a way to claim Maria’s assets as their own.
The property management company got into a fight for the rights as well. However, it was later revealed that the will being presented was fake. The scams were then reported to a court of law. The battle for the rights of Maria’s former properties is still ongoing and there is no telling how long it will be until there is a resolution.
After we heard this story, we went and dug a little deeper into what happens to the assets of expatriates within the UAE after they become deceased. To help our clients sleep better at night, we looked into it and here is what we learned about will and testament regulations within Dubai.
What will happen to your assets in the UAE after you become deceased if you did not have a UAE Will and Testament?
There are many rumors and myths in the UAE market concerning what will happen to your assets after your death in the case of an absent will. There are a few theories. One is that the custody of your children will be given to the oldest man in your family (whether you like him or not). Another theory is related to Sharia law panic attacks, where your family might not inherit the properties you had because they would be divided up because of Sharia law.
What we learned about the truth of what will happen to your possessions after your death.
All your bank accounts will be frozen. This will happen regardless if you have a will or not and whether it is a joint or individual account. This can be a difficult pill to swallow for companies with multiple shareholders because company operations will be affected until the deceased person’s share of the inheritance will be closed. The account will be frozen until a decision is reached by a UAE court. Also, any and all UAE debts, including things like traffic fines, are cleared.
Dependent visas will be canceled right away. This is true but only partially, since widows can get receive extensions for a UAE Residence Visa for a year.
Personal Status Law notes a difference for both Custodian and Guardian for non-Muslims. This means a Custodian will have to care for a child without inheriting the rights of being the child’s guardian. The Guardian will be responsible for upkeeping and taking care of the child financially, morally, and physically. If the child’s parent or parents were to die, it is up to the court to determine proper custody and guardianship.
According to the UAE courts, if no male relative will claim to be the Guardian of a child, the mother, who is based in the UAE, will be the sole Custodian and Guardian.
To an outsider, this may come as a surprise. However, you do not need to be that concerned about it if you are familiar with the local laws regarding a last will and testament well and prepare beforehand. Let’s now take a closer look at the UAE laws concerning inheritance.
What are the UAE laws regarding inheritance?
Federal Law No.28 of 2005 (Personal Status Law) allows non-Muslim expats to make a testament and divide up all the properties they have, as stated within their will. However, if a person did not prepare the will in advance, their assets may be distributed by the courts according to Sharia Law. The Federal Law No.5 of 1985 (UAE Civil Code) and Personal Status Law both allow the courts in Dubai to act according to Sharia Law in case your will is not in place.
UAE Civil Code Articles can be confusing and misleading when Article 17 (1) states that “Inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death,” which means the assets of anyone who is deceased will be regulated and governed by the laws of their home country. Article 17 (5) says that “The law of the United Arab Emirates shall apply to wills made by aliens disposing of their real property located in the State.” Furthermore, Article 3 says that everything related to inheritance will be resolved in a way so it does not conflict with the definitive provisions and fundamental principles of Sharia Law.
If we want to make things even clearer, we will have a look at the fundamental Sharia rules in this situation to eliminate the “Sharia panic attack” some may have.
Sharia rules are as follows:
There is actually a specific formula to calculate each family member’s share depending on what their relation to the deceased person was:
✔ Sons get double of what a daughter receives.
✔ In the event of the death of a husband, 1/8 of his assets go to a wife who has children and ¼ goes to a wife without children.
✔ When a wife dies, ¼ of her assets go to a husband who has children whereas ½ to a husband without children.
When a Muslim husband dies, the male relative will then be the Guardian of the children.
What can be done to secure your family and its assets?
Have a full list of your movable and immovable properties (property, life insurance, and employee benefits).
Keep your family updated about the assets and liabilities you currently have.
Always properly fill out the beneficiary details on your employee benefits form.
Try to have separate bank accounts, assets, and visas with your spouse to avoid any issues if the accounts are frozen.
The main thing you can do to protect your family and assets, if you’re a non-Muslim expat, is to make the draft of your last will and testament and attest it in Dubai Courts or DIFC.
And the most important: "Don't let the fear of losing be greater than the excitement of winning." -- Robert Kiyosaki