Death of a loved one (Ex-patriate) and related legal Issues in UAE
06 Feb 2023
The passing of a loved one is an emotional time, and during this difficult period, one needs to ensure that the legal and formal requirements following the death are adhered to at each stage. In the UAE, the procedures differ depending on whether your loved one passed away at home, in hospital or elsewhere.
If a death takes place anywhere than a hospital, you must report it to the Police immediately. The body will be moved to a government Morgue, where a death certificate declaration will be issued. The death certificate declaration will need to be stamped by the Police after which they will issue a no objection certificate (NOC). After receiving the NOC, the death will need to be registered.
Therefore, in addition to seeking legal advice, you should contact the relevant Embassy / Consulate to obtain the appropriate guidance. It is important to comply with formalities as you will only be able to proceed with the funeral arrangements after the death has been registered with the appropriate authorities in UAE.
Matters to consider following the death :
If the deceased had a life insurance policy, you should notify the insurance company as soon as possible.
- Bank accounts
The general approach, is that local bank accounts in the name of the deceased and in joint names (ie. with spouses or business partners), will be frozen as soon as the bank has been informed of the death. It is therefore important to seek legal advice in relation to local inheritance procedures to ensure funds are preserved for the rightful heirs and to ensure they are released as swiftly as possible, so the surviving family does not experience any financial hardship.
Federal Decree No. 33 of 2021 on the regulation of labour relations in the private sector now provides for the immediate family to be entitled to compassionate leave.
The new labour law also makes employees’ entitlements clear in case of death. The family should therefore liaise with the deceased’ employers to inform them of the death. Depending on the deceased’s duration of employment and the terms of the labour contract, the calculation of final salary, outstanding holiday pay, end of service gratuity and unpaid bonuses may need to be considered.
The law provides for all the entitlements to be paid to the family of the deceased within a specified period after death or within a specified period after the news of death is given to the employer.
In addition, the employer would seek to cancel the visa of the deceased and the impact of this on any dependents will need to be considered.
- Re - Marriage
Marriage automatically ends upon the death of a spouse. In order to remarry, you will normally need to provide proof of your marital status. If widowed, a duly translated and attested death certificate will be required prior to marriage. If you choose to re-marry in UAE in accordance with Islamic marriage rites, a woman will require the consent of her guardian (usually her father). If the father has passed away she will be required to produce evidence of that, and would instead require the consent of an alternative guardian, usually the next closest male relative.
The death of a spouse ends the marriage however the surviving spouse and children will be entitled to make a claim for inheritance, as explained below.
If a spouse dies during the divorce process in UAE, depending on whether the parties are Muslim or not, specific legal advice should be sought as to any financial claim that had been brought in divorce proceedings, to continue under a separate type of proceeding in relation to the deceased's estate.
In the case where divorce proceedings are ongoing in another jurisdiction, and a final decree of divorce has not yet been pronounced, the proceedings shall immediately come to an end upon the death of one of the parties. In such circumstances, the surviving spouse will still be regarded as a ‘spouse’ with all the usual entitlements to death benefits. Furthermore, the surviving spouse will continue to be entitled to inherit as a beneficiary under the terms of the deceased’s last Will, or if not named in the Will, may make a formal claim against the deceased’s estate. In the absence of a Will, the surviving spouse shall benefit under the default intestacy laws applicable to the succession of the assets.
- Family Visas
If you are under a spouse’s visa and your spouse passes away, your visa will also be cancelled. However, a widow can apply for a one-year residence visa following the death of her spouse, without the need of a sponsor. The same would apply for any minor children of the deceased. Information should be sought as to the requirements for eligibility of such a visa.
Although having a valid Will in place is vital in any country, its importance is perhaps most significant in the UAE. Default local inheritance laws are based on forced heirship provisions derived from Islamic Sharia law, and these shall apply to the distribution of UAE-based assets owned by Muslims, regardless of nationality, in the event of their death. Individuals are permitted to execute a Will determining succession of local, and in some instances international assets to ensure that Sharia law is not the preferred basis of distribution. Recent changes in local inheritance laws and procedures now mean there are various options available for non-Muslims to consider when executing a Will, including registering at the DIFC Wills Service Centre (DIFC WSC), and the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD.) It is imperative to obtain specialist legal advice to guide and advise on each option and to assess the most appropriate option for your specific circumstances.
Federal Decree-Law on Personal Status matters for Non-Muslims (Law No. 41 of 2022), deals with Inheritance for non-Muslims and removes the traditional default distribution upon death. Where there is no Will, a surviving spouse would be entitled to half of the deceased's estate, with the other half passing to the surviving children in equal shares. If no children, the parents of the deceased would inherit in their place.
- Guardianship provisions for minor children.
A child under the age of twenty-one is considered a minor in the UAE. Default local inheritance laws shall apply to guardianship of minor children in the event of death of either parent. Guardianship of children resident in the UAE shall be determined in accordance with Sharia law, regardless of nationality, however appointing guardians in a Will aims to bypass local inheritance laws. In the absence of a valid Will, guardianship shall be determined in accordance with Sharia law and this generally means that in the event of death of the father, the next male relative of the deceased father shall be the default guardian, even if the natural mother of the children is still alive. For example, if the paternal grandfather of the children is alive, then he shall be the legal guardian of the minor children.
It is advisable when considering the appointment of guardians, to appoint both temporary, interim guardians who are UAE-based, as well as permanent guardians who would have long term care of the minors until they are adults. The role of the temporary guardians is to ensure there are individuals appointed to care for the children in the immediate aftermath of sudden death of both parents and therefore these individuals need to be locally resident. The permanent guardians would assume care in due course, especially as permanent guardians generally tend to be family members who are resident outside the UAE.
- Pre & Post Nuptial Agreements
For ex-pats, various provisions can be drafted into a Pre or post nuptial Agreement to protect a party in the event of the death of a spouse. Specific instructions can be given for assets or gifts to be passed to the surviving spouse. Other financial provisions in the event of death can also be stipulated including the requirement for the parties to make Wills within a certain time of the Agreement. It is important to state the jurisdiction for the governing law so that there are no conflicting provisions in the event of death.
This article is an overview of the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied upon as such. For specific advice in relation to any of the issues highlighted above, please contact Romano Xavier Dolbey of the Wills and Inheritance Department and Head of Family Law department, Dee Popat.