Inheritance law for UAE expats | PRO Partner Group

Inheritance law for UAE expats | PRO Partner Group

- Haaris Butt

Inheritance law for UAE expats

Like other Middle Eastern countries, the UAE relies on the principles of Sharia Law to guide and dictate many government policies, laws, and regulations. For expats this can have major implications on certain areas of life. Within Sharia Law are provisions that address how one’s assets should be distributed upon their death in the form of an inheritance. Until recently, these inheritance laws applied to everyone including expats, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The challenge is that this can present problems for expats who do not want their assets to be distributed according to Sharia Law. Over the last few years, the UAE has made major changes to its inheritance laws that are more progressive and favourable toward expats who live in the UAE. However, there are some important steps that expats need to take to protect their family and wealth.

Sharia Law and Inheritance in the UAE

In November 2020, President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan introduced changes to existing inheritance laws (Article 1 of Law No. 30 of 2020) that allow expats to better decide how their assets should be handled after their death. Under the law, an expat may elect (via a will) to have their assets distributed according to their wishes or in accordance with the inheritance laws of their home country. While prior laws allowed this to an extent, there were some grey areas which didn’t guarantee exemption from Sharia Law.

Expats who don’t have a will in place at the time of their death may be subject to the rules set forth in Sharia Law. Ultimately, the court system will need to determine how the deceased person’s property and assets will be distributed. Some challenges that expats could face include:

● Frozen Accounts - Until the courts can decide how assets will be distributed, bank and investment accounts will be frozen. This happens even if a surviving spouse is on the account which could leave them with no access to financial means.

● Distribution to Male Family Members - Sharia Law may dictate that assets are distributed to other male family members with the wife only receiving a portion of the inheritance.

● Guardianship of Children - Under Sharia Law, the father is typically given primary custody of children. If the father dies, the mother will often maintain custody (which only extends to age 11 for boys and age 13 for girls), however, a male family member will often be appointed guardian. Conditions of this arrangement may also restrict the woman from getting remarried.

The good news is that this can be avoided by simply creating a will. It’s highly recommended that all expats living in the UAE have a will in place that covers all financial assets, real estate, businesses, and child or elderly guardianship.

Creating and Registering a Will in the UAE

Creating a will in the UAE is a fairly simple process. In the UAE, wills technically do not need to be registered with the government. However, doing so can help avoid any complications or delays in getting the will executed (which often comes with a financial cost to the beneficiaries).

There are two main entities for will registration – the Dubai Courts and the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre). The Dubai Courts is the civil court system of the mainland UAE. The DIFC has a special court system within one of the UAE’s free zones. It’s recommended that expats register their will with in DIFC as they have the authority to apply international law.

DIFC Registration Process

Registering a will in DIFC: 

1. Step 1: Hire a DIFC approved lawyer (Optional) - While it isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer, it is highly recommended. They can guide you through the process and ensure that the will that is written is enforceable under the law.

2. Step 2: Select the type of will and create a draft- The DIFC allows for the registration of five different types of wills – Full, Property, Guardianship, Financial Assets, and Business Owner. The Full Will covers all assets and guardianship. The remaining four can be tailored to specific types of inheritance. The draft will need to include beneficiaries, guardianship wishes, and a list of assets covered under the will.

3. Step 3: Schedule an appointment with the DIFC Courts - You can schedule an appointment with the DIFC Courts by submitting an online request. You will be required to pay the registration fees at this time. The cost for the will registration will depend on the type of will that you have selected. The fees range from AED5,000 to AED15,000.

4. Step 4: Go to your court appointment - You’ll need to bring two witnesses to your appointment along with an unsigned copy of your will draft, an Emirates ID, and proof of payment of the registration fees. The appointment should only last 45 minutes to one hour.

Protecting Your Family and Assets in the UAE

Whether you are moving your family to the UAE for work, retiring in the UAE, or re-evaluating your estate planning, a will is a critical tool to protect your assets and family. While the process for registering a will in the UAE is easy, you may want to get legal advice from an expert who can ensure your will meets all of the necessary requirements. An incorrectly drafted will can cause many complications and the last thing you want is for your family to have to worry about their future during the difficult challenge of experiencing the loss of a loved one.

How can PRO Partner Group help?

PRO Partner Group has in depth knowledge of UAE laws and regulations and close connections with key government departments and legal experts. We can assist you with the approach to registering a will in DIFC or Mainland Courts and ensure it is legally sound and compliant with UAE law.

If you need assistance with this or any other related onshore or offshore company setup, restructuring, local partner or PRO support matter in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the wider UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia then please do get in touch with us on +971 (0)4 456 1761 for Dubai or +971 (0)2 448 5120 for Abu Dhabi, email us at or complete the contact form below and we will be delighted to assist you.

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