Real Estate Inheritance in Dubai – A Guide

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As if expat life were not fraught enough with challenges and complications, families of those who invest in properties here face further complications in the sad event that the property owner passes away intestate.

Nita Maru,  a Solicitor and Managing Partner of TWS Legal Consultants shares some legal advice.

Q: How different is the UAE inheritance system from that of other countries?

A: In the UAE, inheritance for Muslim nationals is guided by Sharia law, while the law of the deceased’s home country can be applied for non-Muslim expatriates. Sharia is not a codified law and is capable of adaptation, development and further interpretation.

Matters of inheritance coming before the Dubai courts are heard by one or more judges. Juries are not used. Furthermore, unlike in some Western jurisdictions, there is no system of precedent in Dubai Court or the UAE.

However, there are many uncertainties regarding real estate inheritance issues. Unlike other jurisdictions, the UAE does not practice ‘right of survivorship’ (property passing on to surviving joint owner upon death of the other, as would be the case in Commonwealth jurisdictions), and the local courts will need to make the final decisions. This is why the introduction of the new DIFC and Wills Probate Registry is a great option for non-Muslim expatriates who are preparing DIFC Wills to ensure their property passes to their chosen heirs as per their wishes.

Q: What are the most common inheritance concerns of clients who own property here and what are the solutions?

A: The most common concerns are from expatriates that have bought property here either in their sole name or jointly with their spouse. They are confused as to which inheritance laws apply to their assets upon their demise, and usually assume that the laws of their native country automatically prevail over local UAE laws.

As a general rule, inheritance issues for Muslims are dealt with in accordance with Sharia, whereas under the new DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (discussed further below) common law principles apply therefore non Muslim expatriates have the freedom to distribute their Dubai estate as they like. Succession under Sharia law principally operates by a system of forced heirship or reserved shares. Under Sharia law, a surviving wife who has children qualifies for 1/8th of her husband’s estate, and a surviving husband who has children qualifies for 1/4th of his wife’s estate. The remainder of the estate will be distributed amongst other family members, depending on who survives the deceased as at the date of death.

Q: Why is it important for expats living in the UAE to have a will, and what are the consequences of not having a will in place?

A: For expats living in the UAE, there is a very simple reason to make a will; generally the UAE Courts will adhere to Sharia Law where there is no will in place.

This means that if you die without a will, the local courts will examine your estate and distribute it according to Sharia law. All personal assets of the deceased, including bank accounts, will be frozen until liabilities have been discharged. A wife who has children will qualify for only one-eighth of her deceased husband’s estate, and without a will this distribution will be applied automatically. Even shared assets will be frozen until the issue of inheritance is determined by the local courts. There is also no automatic transfer of shares where businesses are concerned.

Q: What is the most common instrument that is used for passing assets upon death and what are its main characteristics?

A: A will is the most common instrument used for passing on assets to inheritors chosen by the deceased, and it details how you wish your estate to be distributed after your death. Apart from dictating who should inherit your assets, a will can also be used to specify other wishes such as long-term guardians for your children; executors and specific gifts. Apart from wills, one can also take recourse in setting up more strategic plans like establishing a trust or more sophisticated offshore solutions.

Q: Recently I have heard about the new DIFC Wills and Probate Registry . How does the formation of the Registry help expatriates with assets in Dubai?

The new DIFC Wills and Probate Registry provides a mechanism for non-Muslims with assets in Dubai only to pass on their assets according to their wishes. The rules provide non-Muslims with the option and right to choose the way in which their assets are distributed; they will have the freedom to distribute their assets as they wish. As a “common law” jurisdiction, the use of the DIFC procedure would allow for testamentary freedom for dispositions for non-Muslim expatriates and a speedy administrative process of a deceased non-Muslim’s estate in Dubai. This is further reinforced by the cooperation process between the DIFC and the Land Department.

At TWS, we understand the implications and importance of planning for the future as an expat in the UAE. Can you afford not to talk to them ?

Nita Maru is a British qualified solicitor and Managing Partner of TWS Legal Consultants a proactive law firm offering private client and corporate services  in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Her firm’s mission, quite simply, is to provide peace of mind to their clients and protection for their families.

Nita’s  focus  for many years is on safeguarding families, children, and heirs under succession/inheritance laws in Shari’a jurisdictions and helping with the administration of deceased estates. As examples she says “ Parents wish to protect their children, property owners are concerned about protecting their assets, and business owners wish to ensure the safe handover of their companies to their legitimate heirs”. Nita has authored numerous articles and essays on  wills, guardianship asset protection including recent articles on the new DIFC Wills and Probate Registry in ‘The National’ and ‘7 Days’ newspapers.

She is privileged to be part of the working panel which created the DFIC WPR and their rules.The new  DIFC Wills and Probate Registry( DIFC WPR) is a major and welcomed  development in inheritance/succession matters for non-Muslims in Dubai. The DIFC WPR  is the first jurisdiction in this region where a non Muslim individual can  now opt to register a will under the new Rules  passing on their  Dubai estate  according to their wishes without worrying about UAE law applying to the distribution of their estate.

Her team of specialist wills lawyers  are experienced in the preparation of wills and guardianship documents, and are suitably qualified to advise both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals on the laws that apply in the UAE and how an individual’s family and assets can be protected through both the DIFC or UAE Courts. They have considerable  experience in dealing with the administration of estates comprising  of assets in either or both of the UAE and the UK, and can advise you on all of the processes involved, from determining the assets and liabilities, to ensuring that an estate in distributed to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries.

To schedule a meeting to discuss your requirements for a will or succession planning, feel free to contact us on the details below:

TWS Legal Consultants:

Office 3001,

HDS Tower,

Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai.

Licensed by the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department
Licensed and approved by Dubai Ruler’s Court
Registered with the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts’ Register of Legal PractitionersMember of STEP (Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners)

On the British Embassy’s list of recommended law firms

Tel: (+ 971) 4 448 4284 Email: info@twslegal.ae or by visiting www.twslegal.ae


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