Ok, I know, no-one wants to think about the inevitable but the fact is we will all die but none of us know when it will happen. Sadly, for some it will happen whilst they are living in Dubai. Living in an Islamic state, your assets may be governed under a different set of rules than they would be in your home country, even if you come from another Islamic state, due to different interpretations of the law, so read on as forewarned is forearmed.
The following should not be construed as legal advice, I have no legal training or qualifications so check with your legal adviser before taking any action. This information is what I have gleaned from living in U.A.E. for over 10 years and listening to various experts on the subject.
Firstly, nothing is certain… even if you follow legal advice there is a possibility that the judge in charge of the U.A.E. element of your estate will choose to ignore your careful planning. Whilst this may appear to be an excuse to do nothing, it isn’t really. If you do no planning, the judge will have no reason to think that you did not wish your assets within the U.A.E. to be administered in accordance with Shariah law. That’s all your bank balances, cars, properties, boats, investments etc.
If you have a joint account in U.A.E., this will be frozen in the event of one of the parties’ death, along with any sole accounts the deceased has. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may occur within a few hours of death, so the system is efficient.
If the deceased was your sponsor, as is the case with many housewives, you will need to secure alternative sponsorship, or leave the country within 30 days. Whilst many Western expats can re-enter on a visit visa, there are nationalities that are not so fortunate. It is unlikely that the deceased’s estate will be resolved by this time. For this reason, it is recommended that expats only keep a minimal amount in their bank accounts in U.A.E., just enough for day to day needs.
If you have children, you need to consider who will be legally appointed to look after them locally in the event of both parents’ death until relatives can take over. The local authorities will need legal evidence of the parent’s wishes and will consider the children as wards of court until the court decides what is to happen if nothing is in place. This may mean living with an Emirati family or in an institution for a while until things are legally resolved.
So the first step is to write a will. You should only have one and this should deal with your worldwide assets. It should be written under the law of your home country. Whilst some advisers advocate having a will for every jurisdiction in which you have assets, having more than one can cause confusion. This will not be helpful and your heirs will have enough of a legal headache trying to get local and home country jurisdictions to agree on the best way forward.
Under Shariah Law it is possible to bequeath up to one third of your estate to those you wish to benefit from it. The remaining two thirds are governed under a form of forced heirship whereby blood relatives have set amounts of your estate that they will receive. For example: sons received double the share of daughters. This can create additional tax burdens to expatriates who come from countries where death duties are charged, such as United Kingdom. So what can be done?
In your will you should state your religion. Assuming your are not a Muslim, this is important as it will put the local court on notice that you may not wish your assets to be governed under Shariah law. Even if you are non-Muslim, it will only affect moveable assets e.g. bank balances, cars and other assets. What it will not cover is real estate.
Real Estate has separate rules and these are based on compliance with Shariah as it is considered an immovable asset. So, as property is usually one of a person’s largest assets, it makes sense to be acquainted with the way property will be dealt with.
Given that property ownership by non-Emirati let alone non-Muslims has only been possible since 2006, this section of the law is very embryonic and as such still developing at a rapid rate with little by way of test cases. For this reason very few lawyers will give you a cast iron guarantee that your intended heirs will inherit your property.
To determine what would happen to property will depend on which relatives the deceased had, how the property was held – in his/her sole name or jointly with another person and who that other person was. There are many websites on this but few appear to give a definitive answer as there are so many permutations and combinations. Consequently, you should seek independent legal advice to have your own position established. There are a number of lawyers and will writers in Dubai who would be able to assist you in this matter and if you need their details, please let me know.