Understanding UAE Succession Law: A Step-by-Step Guide for Expats

Are you an expat living in the UAE and wondering how succession laws may affect you, your family, and your assets? 

Look no further! 

This comprehensive guide will provide you with a step-by-step understanding of UAE succession law. 

Navigating the intricacies of inheritance can be daunting, especially in a foreign country with its unique legal framework. 

However, with our expert insights, you’ll gain the knowledge and confidence needed to ensure your assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes. 

From understanding the concept of Sharia law to exploring the different types of wills recognized in the UAE, we’ll cover it all. 

Whether you’re a business owner, a property investor, or simply a resident wishing to safeguard your family and your wealth, this guide will empower you to make informed decisions and take the necessary steps to secure your legacy. 

Don’t let uncertainty cloud your future – let us shed light on UAE succession law and help you plan for peace of mind.

Importance of understanding UAE succession law for expats

As an expat living in the UAE, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the country’s succession laws. 

Unlike many other jurisdictions, the UAE follows Sharia law principles, which can significantly impact how your assets are distributed after your passing. 

By familiarizing yourself with the key principles of UAE succession law, you can ensure that your wishes are respected and your loved ones are provided for.

One of the primary reasons why understanding UAE succession law is important for expats is the concept of forced heirship. 

In many Western countries, individuals have the freedom to distribute their assets as they see fit. 

However, in the UAE, Sharia law dictates that a certain portion of an individual’s estate must be distributed to specific family members, known as legal heirs. 

By having a clear understanding of this principle, you can plan your estate in a way that aligns with your wishes while still complying with the requirements of UAE succession law.

Another important aspect to consider is the potential impact on your business and property investments. 

Without proper planning, the transfer of ownership or control of your businesses or properties may not be as straightforward as you would like. 

Understanding the legal requirements and procedures involved will allow you to make informed decisions and take the necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition.

Key principles of UAE succession law

Before delving into the step-by-step guide, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the key principles of UAE succession law. 

These principles form the foundation of how assets are distributed and provide the necessary context for the subsequent steps in the process.

  1. **Sharia law**: The UAE follows Islamic law, also known as Sharia law. Sharia law governs various aspects of life, including inheritance. Understanding the basic principles of Sharia law is crucial to comprehending how succession works in the UAE.
  2. **Forced heirship**: As mentioned earlier, UAE succession law includes the concept of forced heirship, which means that a certain portion of an individual’s estate is reserved for specific family members, known as legal heirs. These legal heirs are determined based on the rules of Sharia law.
  1. **Freedom of disposition**: While forced heirship is a fundamental principle, UAE law also recognizes the importance of an individual’s freedom to dispose of their assets to some extent. This means that you can still distribute a portion of your estate according to your wishes, outside the requirements of forced heirship, through the use of a valid will.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the key principles of UAE succession law, let’s dive into the step-by-step guide that will help you navigate the process with confidence.


Step 1: Determining the applicable law

Before making any decisions or taking any steps, it is essential to determine which succession laws apply to you. 

The UAE has multiple legal jurisdictions, and the applicable law may differ depending on various factors such as nationality, religion, and the location of assets.

To determine the applicable law, you should consider the following:

  1. **Nationality**: Your nationality may play a significant role in determining which succession laws apply to you. The UAE recognizes the principle of nationality-based personal status, which means that the laws of your home country may apply to matters such as inheritance.
  1. **Religion**: If you are a Muslim, Sharia law will likely be the primary governing law for your succession matters. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, may have the option to choose the laws of their home country or the laws of the UAE.
  1. **Location of assets**: The location of your assets can also impact the applicable succession laws. If you own assets outside of the UAE, the laws of those jurisdictions may come into play.

Determining the applicable law can be complex, especially if you have multiple nationalities or assets in different countries. 

Seeking professional legal advice is highly recommended to ensure that you fully understand the legal framework that applies to your specific situation.


Step 2: Making a Will in the UAE

Making a will is a crucial step in estate planning, regardless of your nationality or religion. 

However, in the UAE, it takes on even greater significance due to the principles of forced heirship and the unique legal framework.

When making a will in the UAE, there are several important considerations to keep in mind:

  1. **Formalities**: The UAE has specific requirements for the form and execution of a valid will. It must be in writing, signed by the testator (the person making the will), and witnessed by two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries under the will.
  1. **Choice of law**: While UAE law recognizes the principle of freedom of disposition, it is crucial to clearly state the choice of law in your will to ensure that your wishes are given effect. If you want your will to be governed by the laws of your home country, this should be explicitly stated.
  1. **Appointment of executors**: Executors are responsible for administering your estate according to your wishes. It is advisable to appoint executors who are familiar with the laws and procedures in the UAE to ensure the smooth administration of your estate.

By making a will in the UAE, you can have greater control over the distribution of your assets, ensuring that they are distributed according to your wishes and outside the requirements of forced heirship. 

It is important to keep your will updated as your circumstances change to reflect any new assets or changes in your family situation.


Step 3: Understanding Sharia law and its impact on succession

As mentioned earlier, Sharia law plays a significant role in UAE succession law. 

Understanding its basic principles is crucial to ensure that your estate planning decisions align with the requirements of the law.

In Sharia law, there are several key principles that impact succession:

  1. **Legal heirs**: Sharia law identifies specific family members as legal heirs who are entitled to a portion of an individual’s estate. These legal heirs include children, parents, and spouses. The shares of each legal heir are determined based on their relationship to the deceased and the rules of Sharia law.
  1. **Inheritance shares**: Sharia law sets out predetermined shares for each legal heir. For example, a son may be entitled to a larger share than a daughter, and parents may be entitled to a share if there are no surviving children.
  1. **Inheritance orders**: Sharia law establishes a specific order of inheritance, ensuring that legal heirs receive their shares in a prescribed manner. For example, if there are children, they would typically inherit before parents, and spouses would inherit after children.

It is important to note that Sharia law principles may apply even if you have a will. 

While a will can be used to distribute a portion of your estate outside of the requirements of forced heirship, the remaining portion will still be subject to Sharia law.


Step 4: Nominating guardians for minor children

If you have minor children, it is crucial to nominate guardians who will take care of them in the event of your passing. 

This is an important step in ensuring that your children will be cared for by someone you trust and according to your wishes.

When nominating guardians, consider the following:

  1. **Family members or close friends**: Think about individuals who have a close relationship with your children and share your values and beliefs. It is important to choose someone who is willing and able to take on the responsibility of raising your children.
  1. **Legal requirements**: Consult with a legal professional to understand the legal requirements for nominating guardians in the UAE. They can guide you through the process and ensure that your nominations are legally valid.
  1. **Communication**: Once you have nominated guardians, it is essential to communicate your wishes to them and discuss your expectations. This will provide clarity and help them prepare for their role as potential guardians.

Nominating guardians for your minor children is a crucial aspect of estate planning, as it ensures that their well-being and future are protected even when you are no longer there to care for them.


Step 5: Registering your will and ensuring its validity

To ensure that your will is valid and legally enforceable, it is advisable to register it with the relevant authorities in the UAE. 

This provides an additional layer of protection and helps prevent any disputes or challenges to the validity of your will.

When registering your will, consider the following:

  1. **Registry requirements**: Check the requirements of the registry where you plan to register your will. They may have specific forms or procedures that need to be followed.
  2. **Witnesses**: Ensure that the witnesses to your will are present during the registration process, as their presence may be required for validation purposes.
  3. **Notification**: Inform your executor and loved ones about the existence and location of your registered will. This will make it easier for them to locate and access the will when the time comes.

Registering your will provides peace of mind, knowing that your wishes are properly documented and legally recognized.

It also simplifies the process for your loved ones, making it easier for them to administer your estate according to your instructions.


Step 6: Seeking legal advice and guidance

Navigating UAE succession law can be complex, especially for expats who may not be familiar with the legal framework. 

To ensure that your estate planning is comprehensive and tailored to your specific needs, it is highly recommended to seek professional legal advice and guidance.

A knowledgeable lawyer specializing in UAE succession law can provide the following assistance:

  1. **Legal expertise**: A lawyer can explain the intricacies of UAE succession law and how it applies to your unique circumstances. They can help you understand your rights, obligations, and options.
  1. **Tailored advice**: Based on your specific situation, a lawyer can provide personalized advice on the best strategies to protect and distribute your assets. They can help you navigate the complexities of forced heirship and balance your wishes with the requirements of the law.
  1. **Document preparation**: A lawyer can assist you in drafting and reviewing legal documents such as wills, guardianship nominations, and other relevant agreements. They can ensure that these documents are legally sound, valid, and in line with your intentions.

Working with a lawyer specializing in UAE succession law will give you peace of mind, knowing that your estate planning is in capable hands. 

They can guide you through the process, answer your questions, and provide the support you need to make informed decisions.


Common misconceptions about UAE succession law

Before concluding our comprehensive guide, let’s address some common misconceptions about UAE succession law:

  1. **My home country’s laws apply**: While it is true that some aspects of your home country’s laws may apply to your succession matters, it is important to understand that the UAE follows Sharia law principles for inheritance. Ignoring or misunderstanding these principles can lead to unintended consequences and disputes.
  1. **I don’t need a will**: Even if you believe that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes, making a will is still essential. A will allows you to have control over the distribution of your assets, nominate guardians for minor children, and provide clarity to your loved ones.
  1. **I can rely on verbal agreements**: Verbal agreements are not legally enforceable when it comes to succession matters. It is crucial to have your wishes properly documented in a legally valid will to ensure that they are given effect.



Understanding UAE succession law is vital for expats living in the country. 

Navigating the complexities of inheritance can be challenging, but with the knowledge and insights provided in this comprehensive guide, you can confidently plan for the future. 

From determining the applicable law to making a will and understanding Sharia law principles, each step is crucial in safeguarding your assets and ensuring that your wishes are respected. 

Remember to seek professional legal advice to ensure that your estate planning is tailored to your specific needs and complies with the requirements of UAE succession law. 

By taking the necessary steps and being proactive, you can secure your legacy and provide your loved ones with peace of mind.


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