What Happens if I Die in the UAE Without a Will?


Terence & Joanne have lived in Dubai for the last 25 years.   Terence had his own business here with a UAE partner.  Like any other expat, Terence opened bank accounts in his own name and also jointly with his wife.  With Dubai opening up the property market for expats, Terence decided to invest in the real estate.  He registered these properties in his individual name.  Life was good until last year when one fine day, Terence had a massive heart attack, collapsed and died.    Joanne was always dependent on her husband until he died.  She had no clue of what assets he owned, how much he owed, where he had all the bank accounts, where did his real estate investments reside as she had left it in confidence to Terence.  She had her car, her ATM and credit cards and she could manage her household without any problems.  Suddenly with Terence passing away, Joanne was left to ponder on how to move forward. 

She found that the banks had frozen all the accounts including her joint accounts, the car was mortgaged by Terence and so the bank confiscated it. She was suddenly without any money or car and was dependent on friends and family for the first time in her life.  When she visited the real estate authority for transfer of his real estate, she was told to approach the court.  The lawyer’s advised her that since Terence passed away without a Will, the UAE Shariah Law will apply to his estate.  Now for nearly a year she is struggling to make ends meet – on one side take care of her family and on the other get an order from the court for transferring his estate.

While Terence was alive, he never thought that without a Will he would put his wife and children in deep trouble.  He struggled every day to provide his family the comforts they deserve, but forgetting that it could all be zero if he died.  Unfortunately, this is the story of several expats who pass away here in the UAE without a will.  While we come here to provide a better lifestyle for our families, most of us forget to ensure that our assets (‘estate’) are passed on to them with very minimum hassles after our death through a properly drafted Will.

Your “Last Will & Testament” is a document that details exactly what you would like to do to your estate in the event of your death. The document can cover all aspects of your life, from physical assets such as property, investments or cash, to who you would like to look after your children until they are of an age that they can look after themselves.

In the absence of a Will, Shariah automatically applies to both Muslim and non-Muslim estate holders when they pass away in the UAE. Under Shariah, the wife of the deceased receives one-eighth of the total estate, while the children receive one-sixth of the share. For every share received by the daughters, the sons receive twice as much. As the UAE is a Muslim country, all courts adhere to Shariah, the primary source of Islamic law

Expatriates who own property in the UAE should write a will, have it translated into Arabic and notarised at their embassy or consulate, so as to make sure the property is passed on or distributed as one wishes, says Mr. Mohammad Marria, Estate Planner of Just-Wills, a UK based company operating as a franchise in Dubai.  If a person dies ‘intestate’, which means the person dies without making a will, ‘inheritance shall be governed by the law of the country of the deceased at the time of death.’  This is according to the UAE Civil Code, Federal Law No.2 of 198, Article 17/1. This law was promulgated to stem confusion surrounding inheritance issues for expatriates. 

In the event that the deceased left no will and he was a Muslim, Shariah would apply and any debt would be first paid prior to any other disbursement of property.   The UAE law of inheritance is based on Shariah Law which differs greatly to laws which many of us are used to and which places exacting restrictions on how we can request our assets be distributed when we die.    Mr. Marria says many people do not understand the possible implications if they die without this vital document.  “Your will is the most important piece of paper you will ever sign,” he explains. “It is your last wishes on how you would like your estate to be distributed. And it’s not just about money and property. It is also about safeguarding the welfare of children. Without that document, things could get pretty nasty and messy.”  A potential testator should list all of his or her assets and appoint an executor - a person who will make sure that all assets will be passed on to the rightful beneficiaries.  

A Will should be made while the maker is in good health, free from emotional stress. A prudent person does not wait for a catastrophe or other compelling reason before making a decision. If you have children and you and your spouse die, do you want to name the guardian of your children, or do you want the court to appoint one? If you do not have a Will, the court, by law, will appoint the guardian. 

To listen to Mr. Mohammad Marria and understand the requirements for drafting a proper Will and to address your doubts, Kanara Entrepreneurs - Dubai (KEL) is conducting an event on Jan 15th in India Club on ‘Wills for Expats in the UAE’.  All interested, can register and attend this event. - Click Here for more details and registration

Compiled by Ivan Fernandes, Chairman of KE Global.  KE Global is a global, non-profit, mutual-benefit corporation founded by successful entrepreneurs to encourage, support and nurture entrepreneurship in individuals originating from the Kanara region

Ivan Fernandes - Archives:


by Ivan Fernandes
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Comment on this article

  • Luka legri, India , rajkot

    Sun, Feb 28 2016

    Recently my sister got heart attack and died . She was working in dubai was on annual vacation in India . We got to know that she has bank loan in dubai , we are getting calls for recovery . Please advice what to do

  • what happens if I die without a will, akhila

    Wed, Nov 26 2014

    Thank you for that informative article. Could you tell me clearly which law applies to his property (I)when a muslim dies intestsate in the UAE and (ii) a non- Muslim dies intestate?

  • Zara Hersi , England

    Fri, Jun 07 2013

    My mother recently passed away in England. Leaving behind me and a bother as well has a half brother and sister. My mother is a Muslim The majority of mum’s assets in Dubai including a property.
    There’s no will in the UK that we know of .Me and my brother wish to be utors to her estate.
    How does the Sharia law works in Dubai?
    Do we need to provide proof that we are Muslim?
    How are the assets distributed if there’s no will?.
    Would they settle any liabilities in the UK before the estate is distributed?
    I would appreciate any advice that anyone has. I am grieving and finding the matter very distressing

    Praise Allah

  • Doreen Machado, Mangalore/ Sharjah

    Wed, Jan 12 2011

    This is indeed a good article and very informative. Very few people are aware of the Shariah law which applies in the UAE. Thanks Ivan for that vital article, I am sure this will help many people. I have already circulated your article to my friends, and sent them the link. Good work!

  • Dayanand Bangera, Katapady / Abu dhabi

    Wed, Jan 12 2011

    I came to know this rule of the land only after reading some time back in local newspaper. What I feel is Indian Embassy should take lead role in educating Indian regarding law of the land in particular country.

  • joegonsalves, Mangalore

    Tue, Jan 11 2011

    I have read carefully Ivan's narrative about an individual dying intestate in U.A.E. I have also read some of the remarks made by readers.

    Ivan's "write up" is indeed an eye opener for all residing in Middle East. Instead of making any adverse comments against Ivan's well meant article, it is good for all residing in The Gulf to follow his advice and be guided accordingly.

    In India writing a DEED OF WILL is a simple matter. One does even need the services of a lawyer. All that one has to do is evaluate his/her assets and carefully allocate them to the people concerned. Mostly it is the family that benefits but this may not necessarily be so. The allocation of all assets is as per the intention of the person writing the WILL.

    After writing the WILL, the concerned person has to request two adults to witness the Will in the presence of each other. All the Will Provider has to do is to say to the WITNESSES that he is fully aware of the contents of the document and that he HAS made THE WILL when he has been a proper state of mind. This would of course need to modified in GULF countries as per the prevailing Law Of The Country.

    Kudos to you Ivan. You have done a great job to ensure that others do not make the same mistake.

    Joe Gonsalves

  • Eric Coelho, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    One Gentleman has asked me a question "Are you a Bachelor?". I am not a bachelor. Let me explain to said gentleman of my comments. We come naked in this world and leave this world with the clothes we wear at the time of death or worn new clothes to please the Gods above. 200 years back a Britisher visited India and said India is filled with richness and could not find any beggar but today 63 years after independence 77% of Indians has reached below poverty line with beggars nook and corner. Our Finance minister is concerned why there is huge gap between the rich and poor. If I amass immovable and movable assets beyond my need and necessity which I will pass on to my family through my Last Will, my kids will also amass more wealth. What have come into this world to run a "Wealth Making Racket". In UAE average life of an Indian is 45 years and in India it is 56 years. Instead of enjoying our short life we are getting pleasure in amassing wealth and one fine day we are off without notice leaving the wealth to the family members to fight like cats and dogs. Hence my policy is simple "No Assets No Will". My only Last Will is to live a life of Love, Peace and Happiness which is the necessity of today.

  • Clement, Kelmbet, Dubai

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    @ Loboprem - I like your your moral of the story. But what about after effects of acquiring assets without any efforts ?
    In my opinion "Make them (especially Children) your / Society's assets, Don't give them assets, beyond their ability to handle".
    A the same time, I do agree with the need to have a 'Will' especially for those who have considerable amount of wealth.

  • Raj, udupi

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    A very nice article.Shows your interest in protecting mangaloreans in gulf.

  • Jerry, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    Hi Eric Coelho, Mangalore. Just One question if you don't mind.
    Are you a bachelor?

  • Rolphy Almeida, Udupi/Bangalore

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    I was working in UAE till 2007 and unsuccessfully debated this issue in writing with our company management. We have come across many such issues of employees died when on leave and the bank to which his salary is credited is benefited by his end of service benefits. I have questioned them how can they remit funds to a dead person’s account? I have also seen a desperate wife sobbing in accounts department after the death of her husband. I would advise all employed/entrepreneur Indians to open a joint (either or survivor) account in a Nationalized Indian Bank with spouse to which salary is being transferred. In addition to that as suggested by Ivan, a will in Arabic is a must. My advice is not to reserve enormous funds in a foreign land.

  • Roshan Pereira, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    Very informative article. I am sure many of us have never thought of the importance of this little piece of paper, especially in this part of the world.
    Thanks for reminding us all..

  • loboprem, Dubai

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    Moral of the story...transfer all your assets to your home country and keep only the liabilities here.

  • Austin Peres, Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    Great information from Ivan Fernandes. The doubts on inheritance of assets( moveable & immovable) of the deceased in UAE must be haunting most of the NRI's particularly the business community. I request Mr Ivan to kindly clarify if a will prepared in India which includes all assets & bank balances held by a person in India & UAE if attested in UAE is sufficient or it has to be prepared in a particular format in UAE itself and attested. Anyway you have provided a lot of useful information for NRI's.

  • Remy DSouza, Doha - Qatar.

    Mon, Jan 10 2011

    An eye opener for enterprising Mangalorean catholics, not only in UAE but around the world. Mangalorean catholic NRI's have investing power. But they are soft targets for cheats and opportunists as they lack the street smartness to guard their interests. While the issue of inheritence and WILL is certainly something that investors should consider, a bigger issue that needs attention is - how to protect yourself from opportunists and scamsters in business. Mangalorean catholics are no strangers to being duped and cheated. Real estate is well known waterloo. To make things worse, many catholics themselves operate brokerages with familiar names like 'Johny's real estate and Rony's real estate' and dupe unsuspecting catholic customers in broad daylight.

    I thank and author, and hope he will keep writing and shed light on similar issues.

  • Melwin, Karkala

    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    Now only lets think about our last will.


    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    Mr ERIC COELHO,Mangalore "never aquire immovable assets beyond our need and never make money beyond our necessity" best quote of the day and all times.The article is very good and informative which may help unplanned careless estate holders.

  • Ronnie, Kinnigoli

    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    Dubai property market is a trap - Very easy to get into and very hard to deal with it when you loose your job or close your business or when you say goodbye to this world! You are cautioned!

  • Percy Noronha, Mangalore / Muscat

    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    A good article by Mr. Ivan. It is not only for the people settled abroad, but even if one is settled in his/her own country, 'Will' is a very important document. There are many occasions where the dependents of the deceased get deceived. Not only the spouse and children, but the aging parents too, if they are depending on their children land up in problem.

  • Eric Coelho, Mangalore

    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    It is a good article to read but My Simple Logic is : "LIVE RICH AND DIE POOR". They say through "Last Will" the next generation (Beneficiaries)will have a smooth sailing. I do not agree to it. There are several instances of the Last Will being misused by beneficiaries who have said "I do not mind breaking and losing a relationship (Between brothers and family members) to acquire the inheritance by any means". I can give several examples. I would like people to follow my Logic. Never acquire immovable assets beyond our need and never make money beyond our necessity.

  • Austin Prabhu, Nantur/Chicago

    Sun, Jan 09 2011

    Good article Ivan. All Gulf Mangaloreans should read this artice twice and take care of their will immediately. Nobody knows when we are going to depart this beautiful world and leave everything behind to our loved ones.

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