United Arab Emirates: Legal Inheritance For Non-Muslim Expatriates

Last Updated: 4 August 2017
Article by Bertrand Dumon and Edouard Salwan

The question of inheritance in the event of death is the ultimate apprehension of European expatriates residing in the UAE, especially considering the uncertainty and complexity of the rules that governs inheritance matters in the UAE.

Whilst the UAE law expressly disposes that inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death and that wills are governed by the law of the national that expired, practice shows that UAE courts seem to privilege the application of Shari'a Law over non-Muslim expats despite a will that provides otherwise. Following numerous questions raised by our foreign clients, whom own assets in the UAE, we elected to give you a spotlight of the local practice regarding inheritance in order to anticipate a potential death and to avoid bad surprises thereafter.

1- The Will, a necessary precautionary measure

1-1 Practically speaking, it is very important to understand that following an expatriate's death, access to the assets of the deceased, in whatsoever form, whether monetary movable assets (shares, cash ect...) or immovable assets shall be restricted. A surviving spouse for instance will not be able to dispose of the restricted assets in any manner whatsoever without instructions given by the UAE Court, having jurisdiction on matters relating to distribution of assets in the event of death. In this respect, it is recommended to hire a local lawyer at the time of death in order to carry out and follow up such procedure.

1-2 Theoretically speaking, article 17 of the Federal Law no (5) of 1985 and its amendments promulgating the UAE Civil Transactions Law (the "Emirati Civil Code") has, in theory, provided a secure legal framework for non-Muslim expatriates by granting an express right to apply the law of the deceased with regard to the distribution of assets, and rules of guardianship of minors in the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, if we follow the letter of article 17 of the Emirati Civil Code, non-Muslim expatriates should take precautionary measures, such as registering a will which states the modalities by which assets are meant to be distributed to the heirs and which member of the family will act as guardian of the minors.

1-3 The question of guardianship is almost always neglected by expatriates whom automatically falsely assume that the surviving mother would systematically receive guardianship of the under aged children.

1-4 In light of the above, having a duly notarized and attested will in place would act as a tool to attempt to derogate from the principle of Shari'a Law should it be drafted and attested under the following manner:

1-5 Unfortunately, we will demonstrate that the UAE judge does not systematically comply with this principle, which is clearly stated in the Emirati Civil Code

2- Effectiveness of a will in the UAE

2-1 In theory, there is a possibility to apply the notion of renvoi (reference to a foreign law) to the deceased's foreign law before the UAE judge if we consider that article 17 of the Emirati Civil Code is deemed as an express recognition of the principles of international private law generally accepted by UAE laws. However, as for the notion of renvoi and all conflict of laws situations, the same is tainted by a double major limitation: UAE public order regarding assets located in the UAE and European public order for assets located in Europe.

2-2 UAE Public Order: The application of the deceased's national law, however codified in UAE law is often countered by the necessity of the succession judge to be bound by UAE's public order and moral values which is exclusively guided by Shari'a Law. In short, for the judge to accept that the inheritance be based on the deceased's will, he shall not only identify and verify the dispositions of the deceased's national law, but also make sure that the stipulations of the foreign law that governs the will is not in express contradiction with the social and ethical values of the UAE. Bearing in mind that notions of public order, social and moral values give rise to a broad and non-exhaustive interpretation, the judge has basically complete discretion to either accept a will based suit or squash it to apply exclusively Shari'a law which conforms to UAE public order and moral values.

2-3 Obviously, a decision of the local judge could not be executed in Europe if it violates the European public order

2-4 European Public Order: It is worthwhile to recall to your attention that the European standard in regards of inheritance has been codified by EU regulation No 650/2012 with a view to ending the fragmentation of the inheritance of EU nationals. Recital 58 of the EU Regulation states that " exceptional circumstances relating to public interest considerations should give the courts and other competent authorities of the Member States responsible for the settlement of inheritances the possibility of excluding certain provisions of a foreign law, where, in a specific case, the application of those provisions is manifestly incompatible with the public policy of the Member State concerned. [...] ". The tone is self-explanatory: Any form of discrimination should render void the decision of a foreign court within an EU member country. In doing so, it is obvious that a UAE ruling based on sharia, which is by definition discriminatory on issues relating men and women's equal succession and careless of the statutory inheritance would be inapplicable under the terms of European public order.

2-5 Having said that, it is crucial for non-Muslim expatriates to understand what exactly happens in the event of the application of Shari'a Law to the deceased's estate, at least in regards of their UAE based assets minding the possibility to rebalance such situation before the European judge at the time of execution of the UAE judgment that ruled upon the inheritance

2-6 Principles of Shari'a Law : In the event the deceased's will is considered as void and the foreign law inapplicable, the following substantial principle of Shari'a Law shall therefore apply to inheritance:

(a) The surviving spouse and the children won't be the sole legal heirs as the deceased parents' will be included and shall receive a portion of inheritance. Furthermore, a daughter receives only half of what a son is entitled for.

(b) Assets will be distributed in virtue of Shari'a Law, according to a specific distribution quota (not necessary based on gender equality)

(c) The mother won't automatically assume guardianship of the children; such right being systematically vested to the father's side of the family. Indeed, in accordance of the disposition of Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 promulgating the UAE Personal Status Law and its amendments (the "Emirati Personal Status Law"), in the event of death of a minor's father whom is a resident in the UAE, the closest male relative on the father's side of the family is usually appointed as guardian of any minor. The mother of the children would retain custody, subject to specific conditions such as her not remarrying. On the other hand, if a wife was to die in the UAE, then the husband would remain the guardian and custodian of any minor children subject to specific conditions under the Emirati Personal Status Law.

2-7 In terms of the Sharia' Laws, all of the deceased's bank accounts are frozen, whether in personal name or in joint names. Access to these accounts are not permitted until a ruling is passed by the inheritance judge having jurisdiction on the estate. Thereafter, the court initiates an estate audit with banks, the Dubai Department of Economic Development and all other free zones to determine the inheritance entitlements in relation to shares held by the deceased in UAE based companies. It is also important to bear in mind that in determining the inheritance shares and issuance of the inheritance certificate, deemed as token to unblock the estate, the courts ensure that the debts of deceased are settled from his estate before distributing to his successors in right.

3- DIFC Wills – a step towards legal security

3-1 Recently, and in an endeavor to eliminate ambiguity and uncertainty, the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry introduced a new framework for inheritance matters in regards of non-Muslims owning assets in Dubai, backed by memorandums executed with other public authorities in order to expand the scope of applicability of DIFC Wills. The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry reflects the innovative spirit of Dubai and is based on common-law inheritance rules.

3-2 To register a Will at the registry, the requirements are that:

(a) Not being Muslim and have never been a Muslim

(b) Being over 21 years of age

(c) Owning assets in Dubai and/or Ras Al Khaimah and/or have minor children residing with you in Dubai and/or Ras Al Khaimah

3-3 There are four types of Will that you can register at the registry:

(a) Full Will – covers the distribution of your assets in Dubai and/or Ras Al Khaimah and the appointment of guardians of minor children (if applicable)

(b) Guardianship Will – covers the appointment of guardians of minor children only

(c) Property Will – covers up to five real estate properties only (online Will service)

(d) Free Zone Company Will – covers up to five shareholdings in free zone or RAKICC companies only (online Will service)

4- In the light of the above, the following elements are to be noted:

4-1 In theory, UAE law offers the possibility of organizing its succession under the law of the nationality of the deceased

4-2 However, since the rules of the Shari'a are rigorous and of public order, the application of the foreign law relating to a UAE based assets is not guaranteed. On the other hand, a UAE ruling could not be executed in regards of assets located in the UAE in the event such judgment is violating the European Public Order.

4-3 The will remains a necessary precautionary measure and is deemed more efficient when registered with the DIFC. It should be noted that the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry is a recent initiative and practice shall demonstrate the effectiveness or otherwise of the latter.

To be continued...

Originally published by the French Business Council for Dubai and The Northern Emirates

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions