Navigating Inheritance Laws in the UAE: A Guide to Sharia and Civil Law

Feb 21


Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Hassan Mohsen Elhais

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Understanding the intricacies of inheritance laws within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is crucial for both nationals and expatriates residing in the region. The UAE's legal framework for inheritance is primarily derived from Sharia Law, which is complemented by several Federal Laws. This article delves into the specifics of how inheritance is regulated under UAE law, highlighting the differences between Muslim and non-Muslim provisions, and offering guidance on how foreign nationals can protect their assets and ensure their wishes are honored.

Governing Laws for Inheritance in the UAE

In the UAE,Navigating Inheritance Laws in the UAE: A Guide to Sharia and Civil Law Articles the inheritance for Muslim citizens is primarily governed by Sharia Law. This is supplemented by Federal Law Number 5 of 1985, which pertains to the Civil Transactions Code, and Federal Law Number 28 of 2005, concerning the Personal Status Law. According to Article 1(2) of the Personal Law, UAE citizens are subject to these laws unless non-Muslim foreign nationals invoke their community's specific provisions, allowing them to opt for the application of their home country's law. Article 17 of the Civil Law further stipulates that a testator's national law at the time of death governs inheritance matters.

Distinctive Aspects of UAE Inheritance Law

The UAE's inheritance law is unique in its inclusivity, accommodating individuals of all religions and nationalities. For Muslims, Sharia Law dictates succession, while non-Muslims have the option to apply their home country's law. Unlike common law jurisdictions, UAE courts do not recognize the "right of survivorship," where jointly-owned property automatically passes to the surviving owner. Instead, the UAE courts have exclusive authority to adjudicate such matters.

Rights of Heirs Under Sharia Law

Under Sharia Law, the heirs of a deceased Muslim have the right to claim the estate. The courts first identify the heirs, requiring confirmation through two male witnesses and documentary evidence. Heirs typically include the spouse, parents, children, and other close relatives. However, there are restrictions:

  • Illegitimate and adopted children are not recognized as heirs.
  • Non-Muslims cannot inherit from a Muslim estate.
  • Murderers of the deceased are barred from inheritance.
  • Divorced women are ineligible unless within the "iddat" period.

Division of Estate Among Muslim Heirs

The division of a deceased Muslim's estate is a complex process involving specific shares for different relatives. The estate covers property rights, debts, and obligations, with the remainder after funeral expenses being distributed among the heirs. The shares are allocated as follows:

  • Half to the husband (if no descendants), daughter, or sister under certain conditions.
  • One-fourth to the husband (if the wife has descendants) or to the wife (if the husband has no descendants).
  • One-eighth to the wife (if the husband has descendants).
  • Two-thirds to multiple daughters or sisters in the absence of a son or male sibling.
  • One-third to the mother (if no other successors) or to multiple maternal children.
  • One-sixth to the father or paternal grandfather under specific circumstances.

Inheritance for Non-Muslim Foreign Nationals

Non-Muslims in the UAE can draft a will to distribute their property as they wish. If a foreign national dies intestate, the courts may apply Sharia principles unless the heirs request the application of the deceased's national law. Article 17(5) of the Civil Law and Article 1(2) of the Personal Law provide the legal basis for such requests.

Choice of Law for Foreign Nationals' Heirs

Foreign nationals' heirs can choose the law of the deceased's home country for inheritance matters. They must request this at their first court appearance and provide necessary documents, such as a death certificate and the will, if available.

Company Shares After Death

The death of a shareholder or partner in a UAE company triggers the division of shares according to Sharia Law unless specific agreements or documents dictate otherwise. It is crucial for companies to have shareholder agreements or wills to ensure shares are transferred according to the deceased's wishes.

Recognition of Wills Under Sharia Law

Muslims can draft wills, but they are limited to disposing of only one-third of the estate, and the will must not include heirs as beneficiaries. For wills exceeding this share, court approval and written consent from the heirs are required.

Legalization of Non-Muslim Wills

Non-Muslims can draft and notarize wills in the UAE, which are recognized upon death if properly registered. The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry offers a platform for non-Muslims to dispose of their Dubai assets according to their wishes.

Joint Accounts and Jointly-Owned Property

Upon the death of a co-signatory of a joint account, the bank must be notified, and the account is frozen until the estate is settled. For jointly-owned property, the absence of the "right of survivorship" principle means the courts will decide on the division of the estate.

Protecting Assets and Family as a Foreign National

Foreign nationals are advised to consult with legal experts to draft wills that protect their families and assets. The UAE is developing legal frameworks, such as the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, to facilitate the registration of non-Muslim wills and ensure the testator's wishes are fulfilled.


Navigating the UAE's inheritance laws requires a thorough understanding of both Sharia and civil law provisions. For Muslims, adherence to Sharia principles is paramount, while non-Muslims have options to apply their home country's laws. It is essential for all residents, particularly foreign nationals, to take proactive steps in estate planning to safeguard their assets and ensure their legacy is honored according to their wishes.