SHARIAH LAW IS VERY DIFFERENT TO THE LAWS OF YOUR HOME COUNTRY AND COULD AFFECT BOTH THE DISTRIBUTION OF YOUR ASSETS AND THE GUARDIANSHIP OF YOUR CHILDREN. NITA MARU, SHARES HER EXPERTISE.
One of the most devastating things that can happen to any family is the unexpected and unprepared for death of a beloved member. Imagine how you would feel if, as a result of the death of loved one, your bank accounts were frozen and family assets were distributed not according to their wishes but according to the law of the land in which you are living. For expat families living and working in the UAE, under Shariah Law, this is a very real scenario if a current, valid Will clearly outlining the wishes of the deceased is not in place.
Under Shariah Law, a wife receives only one eighth of the estate and without a Will, this distribution is automatically applied and would most certainly be contrary to the laws of your own country and to your wishes. Furthermore, all assets, including bank accounts, are seized and frozen until such time as any liabilities have been discharged to the satisfaction of the courts. Surviving family members may be left without access to money until the authorities decide how the estate should be distributed, which may be months or even years down the line.
Not only does the absence of a Will affect the family financially, it can also often doors for the authorities to intervene regarding guardianship of children. This is especially true should the unthinkable happen and death befalls both parents at once. A Will specifying alternative arrangements for the raising of children should be in place to fully prepare for this eventuality.
Protection of family legacies is a complicated, often underestimated area of the law as we have seen Shariah Law operates entirely differently from the laws of your home country. It’s therefore important to have the assistance of fully qualified lawyer who has detailed technical knowledge of local Shariah Law.
Q: I have recently moved to the UAE with my husband and two children. I have heard some concerning stories regarding guardianship of children should either parent die in the UAE? Could you clarify the position?
In the absence of a will, the UAE courts can intervene regarding the guardianship of your children. I recently experienced such a situation at court where the mother was surviving and the guardianship of her children was awarded to her father in law. A will ensures your children are protected and your wishes are met. If there isn’t one, then there is certainly a risk of intervention by the courts.
Q: If my husband dies will our joint bank accounts get frozen?
In principle, the government will freeze accounts until all liabilities of your husband are cleared such as loans, credit cards and business debts; this can happen within one hour of a fatality! The procedure for reactivating the accounts is complex, however the process is expedited where a UAE wills in place, another reason to make sure you have one!
Q: We recently bought our villa in Dubai in joint names. Will I automatically inherit that property upon my husband’s death?
The general rule is that inheritance issues for Muslim nationals, will be dealt with in accordance with Shariah, and for foreigners, the law of the deceased’s home country will apply. There is however some uncertainty with the law surrounding inheritance issues for UAE real estate owned by foreigners and for this reason it is advisable to make a will to clarify a deceased’s wishes regarding the disposal of his estate. This is reinforced by the fact that although you have property in joint names, in the UAE there is no ‘right of survivorship’ concept found in other jurisdictions (i.e. where property passes to the surviving joint owner upon death of a joint owner). Ultimately the courts will decide on a case by case basis.
The Wills Specialists understand the enormous implications and importance of making a Will as an expat living in the Middle East, Ensuring that your peace of mind and satisfaction are guaranteed.
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Please contact one of our experienced Wills lawyers today for more details. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +971 4 448 4284.