Reasons Why You Need a Will as an Expat

Intestacy, which is a term used to describe the in-limbo assets of an estate after the death of the estate holder, is not a word we tend to think or even care about. But if you’re an expat that lives in the UAE, it’s a word that you need to consider. Not having a Last Will and Testament in place could mean the complete dispersing of all your assets—most of which will never reach the people that you want it to go to.

We didn’t write this article up to scare you—far from it. We did write it up to give you a very thorough idea of why a will is essential for any expat living in the UAE. The consequences of not having a will are real, and the best thing you can do for your friends and loved ones is to tend to this necessity as soon as possible.

Reason #1: “The UAE courts will adhere to Sharia Law in any situation where there is no Will in place.”

That quote is from the official website of the Government of Dubai, and its implications are profound for any expat. Without a proper will, Sharia Law is used to divide up an estate owner’s assets. Some of the implications of this are as follows:

  • A court relies on fixed share allocation to both divide and release the estate’s assets. This fixed share allocation proceeds according to the letter of the law and cannot be altered or changed.
  • Assets are not simply given over to the wife. They’re divided across the family. The wife of the deceased receives an eighth of the estate (with children) or a quarter of the estate (without children). Parents, for instance, receive a sixth. And even distant family members that you’ve never even met could receive a share.
  • Sharia Law is also used to allocate debt, and could become a serious burden upon your family.
  • Moveable and immovable assets are not equal in the eyes of Sharia Law. Immoveable assets such as property will always be divvied up in accordance with Sharia Law. Moveable assets (everything from cash to vehicles and investments) are protected with a will.

Reason #2: Your assets could remain frozen for an indefinite period of time

It’s common practice for the government to freeze all UAE-based bank accounts that were held by the deceased individual, regardless of whether they are joint accounts or not. This freeze of assets extends to family members that previously had access. Without a will or guardian named, those assets may not be accessible for months. A will can dramatically speed this process up.

Imagine trying to set up a funeral or grieve for your loved one with your accounts completely frozen. It’s not a situation we’d wish anyone to be in.

Reason #3: Your wife or husband may not retain custody of your children

Under Sharia Law, guardianship of the children is not necessarily given to the remaining parent. This is true regardless of whether it is the husband or wife that passes away. For more information on guardianship laws in the UAE, click here.

Reason #4: Your assets are protected from extreme tax liability

The more you own in the UAE, the more you’ll want to protect that property from excessive taxation in the event of your death. A properly written will can help keep those tax losses to a minimum.

Reason #5: You cannot donate to desired charities without one

Unless you’ve specified in your will how much of your assets you’d like donated to X or Y charity, no one will know those final wishes. Make sure you add this in during the creation of your will.

Concluding thoughts:

The UAE, along with many other countries in the Gulf Coast, has a highly complex set of laws that an expat must be aware of. Without preparation, you are more or less powerless to help your family in the event of your death. If you’d like to discuss UAE inheritance laws with the UAE Money Expert, or would like us to explain Sharia Law in more detail, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

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