Why Expats Living in Dubai, UAE Really Need a Will

We’ve already made it very clear that British expatriates need wills because despite changing their nation of residence they do not change their nation of domicile when they move abroad, and for Brits it’s your country of domicile that counts when it comes to inheritance tax.  Additionally, for all other expats, your new nation of residence may have an interest in your estate when you die; and if you own, hold or have an interest in assets in different locations around the world then your estate’s complexity could result in serious difficulty for your family if you were to die intestate – i.e., without having made a will.

For expatriates living in Dubai, or anywhere in the UAE for that matter, there is now an even more pressing reason for you to make a will.  Did you know that the Government of Dubai’s official website now states that UAE courts will adhere to Sharia Law in any situation where there is no will in place?  This means that if you’re living in Dubai or working in the UAE and you die without having made a will, the local courts will examine your estate and potentially distribute it according to Sharia Law.

You may be thinking: ‘so what’s the problem with Sharia Law being used to distribute my estate?’  Well, Sharia Law is often used throughout the Muslim world to deal with matters of a personal or family nature, and for inheritance matters Sharia Law prescribes to a set method of distributing a person’s wealth after their death, and this distribution is based on Islamic principles which favour the men in the family.  So basically, if you’re living in Dubai and you don’t have a will, you cannot be sure your family will be correctly looked after and provided for after your death.

For inheritance matters Islamic Sharia Law favours the males in one’s family and therefore a male person’s entire estate will not be given to his wife after his death, as is the case with the inheritance laws of many western countries.  In fact, the amount a wife inherits depends on whether or not you both have any children from the marriage.

If a married couple have children then the wife is only entitled to one eighth of the husband’s entire estate, and if they don’t have any children then she will be given one quarter of his UAE based assets.  The remaining part of a male’s estate then goes to his own family, again favouring the males with larger shares based on the fixed shares prescribed by Sharia Law.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and the UAE Government recognised that attributing Sharia Law principals to an expatriate’s estate could be a problem, so in 2005 they brought out a Personal Affairs Law which allows non-Muslim expats living in the UAE to opt to use the law of their own countries to distribute their assets situated in the United Arab Emirates.

However, to benefit from the terms of this Personal Affairs Law and to thereby avoid Sharia Law being used to distribute your estate as you wish, you must be a resident of the UAE and have a valid will drafted in accordance with the laws of your home country – i.e., your country of domicile.

Another important reason to make a valid will as an expat is to deal with what most expat parents consider to be their most valuable assets that need protecting, i.e., their children.  It is absolutely essential for expat parents to make their wills as this is the only legally recognised instrument that can be used by them to appoint guardians for their children in the event that both parents die.

Expats living abroad should give serious consideration to also appointing temporary guardians for their children.  Temporary guardians can be appointed to take care of the children’s welfare whilst the permanent testamentary guardians appointed in your will are making their way over from their home country and/or making arrangements to take over the care of your children.

A valid will is also an essential requirement to obtain a Sharia court order, this is the trigger needed to release an expat’s assets in Dubai that are automatically frozen upon death.  As an expat residing in the UAE it is important to understand that your unpaid bills, debts and mortgages will not die with you.  This could leave a great deal of debt unpaid until your estate is finally dealt with by the UAE Courts, and you need a will to release your bank accounts etc., so that your family’s ongoing financial requirements are met.

To avoid all these unnecessary problems arising and to give your family the peace of mind that your financial affairs are in order, if you’re living in Dubai or the UAE it is highly recommended that you appoint a specialist to arrange the drafting of your will in accordance with your home country law so that Sharia Law does not come into effect in the unfortunate event that you die intestate.

With thanks to Lindsey Johnson from EXPAT WILLS, the specialist will writing firm based in Dubai, for her assistance with this article.  For more information about this matter visit or if you’re in Dubai then telephone 800 EXPATWILL / 800 39728 9455

Note: EXPAT WILLS is approved by the Dubai Legal Affairs Department and listed on the Official Website for the Government of Dubai.

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