Introduction

UAE wills’ scene for expats was shaken in 2023.

Federal Decree Law No. 41 of 2022 on Civil Personal Status (the “Law”) introduces the non-Sharia default rules applicable in the absence of a will in the event of fatality of a non-Muslim resident and/or citizen of the UAE.

The Law was complemented by Cabinet Decision No. 122/2023 on the Implementing Regulation of the Law (the “Regulation”).

The Law covers inheritance and wills in articles 11-13.

The Regulation covers wills and inheritance in its articles 25-43 (most of its content!).

What the Law Says

Article 11.1 proclaims the full testamentary freedom available to non-Muslims in the UAE.

If a will exists in the event of fatality of a non-Muslim, the decesased wishes shall prevail.

If no wish exists, Article 11.2 of the Law lays down the default rule in the event of fatality of a non-Muslim resident and/or citizen in the UAE:

“In the absence of a will, half of the inheritance shall go to the husband or wife, and the other half shall be divided equally between the children, without distinction between males and females. If the deceased has no children, the inheritance shall devolve to the parents of the deceased, if alive, equally, or half of it to one of them, if the other is dead, and the other half to the brothers of the deceased, or all the inheritance shall devolve to a parent, if the other is dead and there is no spouse, child or brother of the deceased, and if both parents are dead, all the inheritance shall devolve to the brothers of the deceased equally, without distinction between males and females.

Article 11.3 introduces an exception to 11.2 above which is the potentiality to seek the application of the law stipulated in the Civil Transactions Law unless the deceased left a will stipulating the opposite.

Article 17 of Federal Law No. 5/1985 on Civil Transaction Law indicates that inheritance will be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death, which is the law of his/her passport.

So if a non-Muslim Dubai resident passes away without a will, any of his/her heirs could seek for the law of the passport of the deceased to apply.

Articles 12 and 13 of the Law address the procedures for opening the file of inheritance (12) and the procedures for registering wills (13) but leave its content entirely to the implementing regulations:

Article 12 – Procedures for Opening the File of Inheritance and Distributing it

The Cabinet shall issue a guide for the procedures of inheritance for those addressed by the provisions of this Decree-Law.

Article 13 – Procedures for Registering Wills

    1. The wills of those addressed by the provisions of this Decree-Law shall be recorded in the register prepared for this purpose in accordance with the procedures specified by the Executive Regulations of this Decree-Law.
    2. The spouses may complete a will registration form at the time of signing the marriage contract to indicate how the estate will be distributed in the event of the death of either of them.

What the Regulation Says

The Regulation starts is coverage of inheritance and wills in its Article 25:

The will shall have priority over estate. However, the will shall not be executed or the estate funds distributed unless the following has been met and in accordance with the following order:

    • 1- Funeral expenses.
    • 2- Expenses for administering the estate and executing the will.
    • 3- Wages of the will executor and estate administrator.
    • 4- Debts owed by the estate, according to the privilege levels stipulated in current legislation.

In its Articles 26 through 32 covers the following

Article 26: the form required (writing, oral or understandable sign); the potential beneficiaries and types of wills (absolute, restricted, added or conditional form, etc)

Article 27 Registration of a will covering the conditions and procedures required

Article 28 Conditions for a Will to be valid

Article 29 Expirty of a Will addressing the scenarios that could give rise to such expiry

Article 30 Multiple Wills and how to deal with their existence

Article 31 Acceptance or Rejection of a Will addressing the different scenarios and the timings subject to the different heirs

Article 32 Will with rights and obligations

The Regulation covers the figure of executors from Articles 33 to 35 covering the (1) conditions of the executor of the Will; (2) Duties and Powers of the Executor of the Will; (3) Obligations of the Executor of the Will.

The last articles covering Wills address Will Execution Procedures, Will Accounts that will need to be prepared by the Executors contained detailed statemetns of the will accounts and expenses, Transfer of ownership of the Bequested money, removal of the Executor, procedures for removing executors, fees of executors, applying the rules of fairness and justice, the avoidance of conflicts of interests (in Executors).

The Law and its Regulation therefore create a very solid framework.

Expats’ Curiosity in UAE Wills

What spikes the greatest curiosity on UAE expats is the how to register the will and how wills are executed.

UAE Wills’ registration is covered in Article 27:

The will shall be registered in the register prepared for this purpose at the competent Court in accordance with the following conditions and procedures:

    • 1- The testator shall not be a Muslim who is subject to the provisions of the Decree-Law and this Decision.
    • 2- It shall meet the conditions for the validity of the will stipulated in Article (28) of this Decision.
    • 3- The will shall include the appointment of a will executor, and a statement of how to dispose of the bequested money.
    • 4- The will shall be signed by the testator, or bear his seal or fingerprint in the presence of two witnesses.
    • 5- The text shall not contain any erasure, scratching, insertion, or addition.
    • 6- The prescribed fees shall be paid.

As readers will have noted it talks about the registration, not the execution of the will this is precisely because Wills are made the same way they were being made or executed before the Law and the Regulation, they are signed before a Dubai Courts’ Notary Public and attested by his authority.

The peculiarity that the Law and the Regulation introduce is its subsequent registration with the Non-Muslim Inheritance Department created under the auspices of the Dubai Courts.

Prior to reaching the registration aspect, a non-Muslim will have to:

  1. Give proper thought to the terms of the Will: inheritance, executors, etc.
  2. Draft the Will with the help of experts in the field;
  3. If not drafted in the Arabic language, the will will need to be translated into Arabic in order for the Notary Public to entertain its attestation;
  4. Sign in front of a Dubai Notary Public who will attest the Will.

UAE Wills executions are covered in Article 36:

The will shall be executed according to the following:

    • 1- Pursuant to an order issued by the competent Court if the will is registered in the register.
    • 2- Pursuant to a ruling issued by the competent Court if it is not registered in the register, and this shall be based on a written request from the legatee or his guardian, and in accordance with the usual procedures for filing a lawsuit.

As readers will have noted, there are different process based on whether a registered will exists or not.

Conclusion

The Law and the Regulation have removed the by default Sharia from application and as such many of the horror stories when it came down to inheritance in the UAE. The tools are now available and should be used by UAE residents to avoid the lengthy procedures to unblock accounts and fix immigration issues when the principal in a family passes away. The execution of a registered will benefits from an expedited procedures away from the regular litigation court path, which translate into time, security and peace for family members in a time of transition.

For more complex inheritance we strongly recommend a recent publication about Trusts and Foundations here.

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We hope this publication will help you understand the New Inheritance for Non-Muslims in the UAE and remain available for any questions regarding this post of general application.

For more information published in English you can visit all our publications at this link as well as the videos in English of our Partner Maria Rubert.

*The information on this page is not intended to be legal advice. This article is intended to provide an initial introduction to wills for non-muslims in the UAE.