Changes to the UAE penal and civil codes, ushering in a broadening of personal freedoms and equal protections, will invariably have an effect on expat families, with the laws on inheritance being a prime example.
Historically, in some cases, if an expat died without a Will, the deceased person’s assets would be divided as per Sharia law. This would involve some compulsory rules of division of the estate between certain members of the family, which may not always be in alignment with the wishes of the deceased or the family. However, the new changes stipulate that, if someone has not made a Will at the time of death, the inheritance is to be dealt with according to the law of their country of nationality. There is one exception to this, though, and that pertains to UAE real estate, which will continue to be subject to UAE laws unless the Will has been registered in the UAE.
It is also essential to understand that Sharia law will still apply to Muslim expats living and working in the UAE. The new amendments to the Federal Laws on inheritance will only apply to non-Muslim expats.
There is also likely to be a change to the law as regards custody of children following a divorce. Until now, non-Muslim expats who divorce in the UAE have either Sharia law or the law of their home country applied (a choice is given), and where the two parents are of different nationalities, the law of the husband’s nationality applies. UAE law would be put into operation for any aspects that remained unaddressed. Although not confirmed as yet, it is expected that there will be a change in relation to children and custody in certain instances. Sharia law is less likely to apply, as the divorce will proceed as per the law of the country where the marriage took place, regardless of the individual’s nationality or religion.
There are other ways in which the new changes will impact expats, covering everything from cohabitation through to alcohol consumption. All of these many changes are intended to enhance the well-being of all UAE residents. Expat parents will undoubtedly benefit from these developments.