Death & Sharia Law

One of the most devastating things that can happen to any family is the unexpected death of a beloved member. Imagine if you can, how you would feel if as a result of the death of a loved one, your bank accounts were frozen and family assets were not distributed according to the wishes of the deceased but were distributed according to the law of the land in which you are living.

The reality of the situation is that expat families living and working in the Middle East fail to understand, or are normally unaware of the implications of the application of Sharia Law to their assets, their children and in the case of business proprietors, their business. It is therefore imperative that expats explore the necessary steps they need to take to ensure that their families are protected and are prepared financially for the unexpected.

There are 3 forms of Law that come in to play with the death of a family member:

In the absence of a will, Sharia Law automatically applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Irrespective of the presence of a will or not, within one hour of the police being informed of a death, the bank accounts and assets of that person are frozen.

Sharia Law then states that the wife of a deceased husband would receive one-eighth of the total value of her husband’s assets. The deceased’s parents would receive one-sixth, and for every share received by the daughters, surviving sons would receive twice as much. Furthermore, all assets, including bank accounts (business and personal) are 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 could be months or even years.

Not only does the absence of a will and Sharia Law affect the family financially, it can also open 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 as to who will raise the children should be in place to fully prepare for this eventuality. It is important to have a temporary guardian who lives within the UAE appointed, who will take care of your children until such time as the permanent guardian can get to the UAE to take on the responsibility of the children. You need to take in to account that the permanent guardian will have to find the funds to fly to the UAE, and at times get a visa, which can take up to a month! If there is no specified guardian, the children are placed in care until such time as the UAE Government finds a suitable guardian.

UAE Law stipulates that on the death of the primary sponsored family member, their visa is cancelled, as are the visas for all that person’s family, and employees (maids, drivers etc.) Once visas are cancelled you have 30 days to find other sponsorship, or to exit the country and re-enter on a visitors visa. Once their visas are cancelled, the children have to leave the school they are attending.

Lastly, International Law is applied. The UAE government will alert the Embassy of the country you are a citizen of, and they in turn will alert the authorities in your country. The laws of that country will then be applied to any assets, property and accounts that you have there – again this will often include the freezing of any joint accounts.

In order to have a will drawn up which is accepted in the UAE, employ the services of a licensed advocacy or legal consultancy firm who should ensure that the will meets the legal requirements of your home jurisdiction. You can then take this will to the consular section of your embassy in Abu Dhabi to have it witnessed. However, attesting the will does not necessarily mean it will be implemented – that is up to the court’s discretion.