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  • Writer's pictureBrent Yap

The Muslim Expat's Guide to the UAE's Estate Planning Laws

The UAE Laws Series. 27 March 2023

Introduction


Marhabah to all Muslim readers and we wish you a safe and happy Ramadan Mubarak during this holy month.


In our previous article, we have prepared a guide to estate planning for non-Muslims expatriates which you can read here : https://www.vikneshyap.com/post/guide-for-expats-preparing-your-wills-in-the-united-arab-emirates


This week we will look at estate planning laws for foreign Muslims in the UAE.


Islamic estate planning and administration is a critical concept for all Muslims, and it plays a significant role in the UAE's legal framework. The UAE is home to a large number of expats from around the world, including a significant Muslim population. Therefore, it is important for all foreign Muslims living in the UAE to understand the local laws that govern Muslim estate planning and administration.


According to Shariah law, a person's assets must be distributed according to specific rules after their death. These rules dictate that a person's wealth must be divided among their heirs, with varying percentages allocated to each heir based on their relationship to the deceased. The distribution is made according to the concept of Faraid, which sets out the legal inheritance rules for Muslims.


A Muslim's estate is comprised of all their assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal property. To ensure that their estate is distributed according to their wishes and in accordance with Sharia law, Muslims in the UAE should consider creating a will.


Sharia Law of Inheritance


However, the application of Shariah law in the UAE can be complex, particularly in the context of foreign Muslim residents. It is, therefore, essential for foreign Muslims to work with a lawyer who is familiar with the local laws and regulations to ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes upon their death.


Are there differences between Expatriates Muslims and local Emiratis in the UAE?


Well, there are some subtle differences between foreign Muslim expats and local Emirati Muslims in the UAE in terms of their legal rights and obligations under Sharia law, particularly with respect to inheritance and estate planning.


Under Sharia law, the distribution of a Muslim's estate is determined based on their familial relationships, with male heirs receiving larger shares than female heirs. However, the specific rules for inheritance may vary depending on the Muslim's country of origin or the specific interpretation of Sharia law that is followed by their community or sect.


For foreign Muslim expats, the rules governing their estate planning and inheritance may be influenced by the laws of their home country, particularly if they have created a will that is recognized in both their home country and the UAE. In some cases, foreign Muslim expats may also be subject to different tax and property laws than local Emirati Muslims.


Local Emirati Muslims, on the other hand, are subject to the laws and regulations of the UAE, including Sharia law, when it comes to estate planning and inheritance. The distribution of their assets among their heirs is governed by the rules of Sharia law, and any wills that they create must comply with those rules.


Overall, while there may be differences between foreign Muslim expats and local Emirati Muslims in the UAE with respect to estate planning and inheritance, both groups are subject to the principles of Sharia law and must take steps to ensure that their assets are distributed in accordance with those principles.


Creating an Islamic Will


One of the essential aspects of estate planning for foreign Muslims living in the UAE is the preparation of a Will that outlines their wishes regarding the distribution of their assets. Wills are not always recognized under Shariah law, and there may be limitations on what a person can include in their Will. In the UAE, a Muslim's will must comply with Sharia law and be registered with the Dubai Courts or the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. The will must be written in Arabic, and it must be signed by the testator and two Muslim witnesses who must not be beneficiaries under the will, and they must be of sound mind and free from any legal disabilities. In addition, Sharia law provides for different shares of the estate to be distributed among the heirs. The share of the estate that each heir receives is determined by their relationship to the deceased. For example, under Sharia law, a daughter is entitled to half of the share of the estate that a son is entitled to. The remaining half is divided among the male heirs. It is important to note that any assets that are not included in the will are distributed in accordance with Sharia law.


Setting up a Trust


In addition to a will, Muslims in the UAE may also consider setting up a trust to manage their assets during their lifetime and after their death. A trust can be a useful tool for estate planning, as it allows the testator to retain control over their assets while providing for their heirs in accordance with Sharia law. A trust can be established during the testator's lifetime or as part of their will. The trustee, who is responsible for managing the assets in the trust, must be a Muslim and should be someone who is trustworthy and capable of managing the assets.


Estate Administration


Additionally, foreign Muslims should be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding the administration of their estates after their death. After a Muslim's death, their estate must be administered in accordance with Sharia law. The first step in estate administration is to determine the heirs and their shares of the estate. This process can be complex, as Sharia law provides for different shares of the estate for different heirs, and there may be disputes among the heirs.


Once the heirs and their shares have been determined, the estate administrator must distribute the assets in accordance with Sharia law. This can include selling assets, paying off debts and taxes, and transferring ownership of property to the heirs.


Foreign Muslims in the UAE may face additional challenges in estate administration, particularly if they are not fluent in Arabic or familiar with the local legal system. The administration process can be time-consuming and complicated, particularly in cases where there is no Will or where the Will is contested. To navigate these challenges, foreign Muslims may consider working with a local attorney who is familiar with Sharia law and the estate planning and administration process in the UAE.


Conclusion


In summary, estate planning and administration are critical considerations for foreign Muslims living in the UAE. It is essential to work with experienced lawyers familiar with the local laws and regulations to ensure that the estate planning and administration process is smooth and legally compliant. By working with a qualified lawyer, foreign Muslims can ensure that their assets are distributed according to their wishes upon their death and avoid potential disputes and complications.


The UAE Laws Series in our ongoing weekly series published every Monday to talk about the different laws in the UAE concerning businesses, foreign investments and the related laws and regulations promulgated to provide a helpful and reliable guide whether you are seeking to be employed in the UAE or doing business in the UAE. This is not intended to substitute a qualified UAE lawyer or legal consultant's legal advice. Our legal partners in the UAE are ready on hand to assist you in all of your enquiries and needs. You can email me at brentyap@vikneshyap.com to know more.

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