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  • Writer's pictureAkram Cheik - Lawyer

Dubai Civil Inheritance Law

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

How inheritances are organized in the United Arab Emirates for expatriates?



The United Arab Emirates is carrying out an in-depth legal reform intended for expatriates of different nationalities - whose number is constantly growing, particularly in Dubai - so that they can secure and protect their movable and real estate investments in matters of inheritance. This legal reform thus introduces the possibility for expatriates in the Emirates to write wills based on the civil legislation of their country of origin. With regard to French civil law, inheritance regimes are organized through articles 720 to 892 of the French civil code. A difference of extreme importance for property owners in Dubai, insofar as, previously, only the regime of Islamic law was applicable.


I – Developments in the inheritance regime in the United Arab Emirates


A- The application of the previous law


Based on Islamic Sharia, the Muslim religion organizes according to the degree of kinship, proximity to the deceased. A precise system, which, depending on the case, distinguishes between the shares of male or female heirs. A system certainly precise, but which however, could not systematically correspond to the expectations of expatriates in the Emirates often of Western culture, commonly associated with the tradition of Roman-civil law, de facto non-Muslim. Thus, in order to guarantee consistency in inheritance cases, the United Arab Emirates decided to change the legislation by unifying it. On the other hand, no change in the case of people with assets outside the Emirates but who die in Dubai, these people see their estate assets bequeathed under the law of the country of origin of the property and the will. The Dubai court can recognize wills drawn up from foreign countries, however these must be the subject of a legal translation certified by the authorities of the United Arab Emirates.


B- The application of the law of September 2020


Thus, non-Muslims since September 30, 2020, can be exempted from the systematic application of Islamic Sharia in order to apply the civil law of their country of origin. A major change, which is based on article 17 of the UAE civil code. However, this application is subject to a justification of the request on the one hand, but also to a legal translation of the text that one wants to apply on the other hand. Concretely, it is imperative that the will mention the applicable law, otherwise, it is clear under the law in the Emirates that local law will apply. Thus, a court was set up in Dubai to examine inheritance disputes involving non-Muslims and Muslims in order to apply foreign legislation, the court comprising specific training and involving all levels of jurisdiction . In addition, New wills will therefore have to be registered with a notary in Dubai for people wishing to enforce a law from the civil law tradition, for those wishing to enforce a law of Anglo-Saxon origin will have to go to the court of DIFC.


II- The limits of the mechanism


A – Property owners in Dubai


While this legislative change allows the application of the law of the country of origin, this change is limited to certain real estate assets. In particular, it is extremely important to note that: When the inheritance consists of real estate which is inside the territory of the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, it is the law of the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES which will be well and truly applied. A fundamental limit here, in particular with regard to the significant number of owners of real estate who are expatriates. The latter must therefore, when drafting the will, take into account local law buildings, in fact, if it appears that the new legislation allows the application of the law of the nationality of the expatriate, it is in excluding buildings. Furthermore, the law of the country of origin cannot be applied in violation of the law of the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, the interpretation of a foreign text in matters of inheritance law cannot contradict a text of local law, failing which the conflict between these two laws will be decided in favor of the law of the Emirates.



B - Processing times at the Court of Dubai


The opening of a file takes on average between 24 to 48 hours, however several factors can lengthen the delays of this procedure. In particular, the number of beneficiaries, the type of will (two types exist), the use in certain cases of a survey of various institutions such as: banks, land services, or even various public administrations in order to have information as both on the assets and on the liabilities. Thus, certain wills that are unclear or that have been transmitted orally may also see the processing time be greatly extended. In addition, it takes on average 1 to 2 years to complete a non-contentious succession procedure. In order to improve the chances of obtaining the execution of a will quickly, it is advisable to turn to a lawyer, who will be responsible for making the testamentary wishes clearer, and moreover to facilitate their reading and comprehension



By Akram Cheik, Lawyer in UAE for Nextcap

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