The United Arab Emirates provides an excellent environment for expat individuals to live and work. Indeed, the UAE authorities are incentivizing foreigners to stay longer with initiatives such as the Golden Visa.
One concern of a UAE expat may be what would happen in the event that the expat, particularly one with a family and/or a business in their name, unfortunately, dies? Whilst this is a sensitive subject, it would be prudent for an expat to consider this eventuality and plan ahead.
The UAE is a predominantly Muslim country and its legal framework follows the Muslim law (or Shari’ah law) in certain areas. There are laws in respect of succession in the UAE which dictate how a person’s estate is distributed upon death and which are administered in accordance with the UAE Civil Code and, in respect of foreigners, the Personal Status Law.
This position is reasonably complex, but the general approach is that Shari’ah law would not be applied to non-Muslim foreigners (although there may be different practices and applications of the laws between Emirates). However, Shari’ah law would naturally apply to a Muslim expat.
So, what can an expat do to provide comfort to their family in this unfortunate scenario?
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has a Wills Service Centre which permits non-Muslims over the age of 21 to deal with assets such as real estate, bank accounts, and shares that are located in certain areas of the UAE without applying Shari’ah law. Additionally, a will registered at the DIFC Wills Service Centre (DIFC Will) can establish guardianship of children which is relevant, for example, where an accident was to happen to both parents.
The DIFC amended its regulations in 2019 to permit assets from all Emirates in the UAE to be included.
If a DIFC Will is not preferred, then the courts of that Emirate could be approached to inquire as to the best practice for a non-Muslim expat to register a will – certain courts in certain Emirates in the UAE may have their own systems for registering wills, or may accept an expat’s will from their home country where it is validly apostilled and registered with the courts in that Emirate. However, this would have to be checked and confirmed with the relevant authorities in that Emirate.
There will be an interaction between the UAE will of an expat and the will of the laws of the domicile of the expat, i.e. it’s home country. For example, the UK charges inheritance tax (IHT) on persons whose domicile is in the UK, and such IHT will be calculable on an individual’s worldwide assets, including those situated in the UAE.
As the above shows, the subject of succession is reasonably complex and will depend on the location and circumstances of the person (including their nationality) and their assets. It is recommended that a lawyer should be consulted to assist, ideally both in the UAE and in the expat’s home jurisdiction.