ISLAM, NATIONALITY AND INHERITANCE UNDER THE UAE CONSTITUTION AND LAW: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Authored by: Mohammed Al Salti and Tarek El-Bakri
Part two in a series (part one, part three, part four) of questions and answers on Islam, nationality and inheritance considerations in the UAE. The series should be read in its entirety.
Does the Personal Status Law in the UAE prohibit bequeathing an estate or inheritance to a non-Muslim (whether he is a UAE national or a non UAE national)?
Yes. To begin with, Article 318 of the Personal Status Law provides that "there shall not be inheritance from among different religions". This means that a non-Muslim may not inherit from a Muslim, even if they are related. Islamic scholars are agreed that a non-Muslim relative cannot inherit from a deceased Muslim. This applies to where the spouse or other relatives remain non-Muslims up to the division of the estate. However, should the spouse or other relatives become Muslims during the life of the deceased, they are eligible to inherit under the law. Should the spouse or other relatives become Muslims after the death of the deceased but before the division of the estate, they may also inherit under the law. However, not all scholars are agreed on this latter point.
However, Article 249 of the Personal Status Law permits a Muslim to bequeath an estate to a non-Muslim (and vice versa) by way of a will. Therefore, while a non-Muslim may not inherit by operation of law from a Muslim, he may inherit by way of a will.
Does the UAE Personal Status Law apply to a Christian if he or she owns property in the UAE and does not hold UAE nationality?
No. Article 17.1 of the Civil Transactions Law clearly states that the law of the country of the nationality testator on his death will be applied to his estate. Therefore, the estate of a non-Muslim who is not a UAE national who dies in the UAE will be subject to the law of the country of his nationality, unless all the beneficiaries agree to apply Islamic Sharia, in which case the court will apply the latter.
What law would apply in the event of the death of a person who carries several nationalities, in addition to UAE nationality, and who has property spread across the countries of which he bears its nationality?
The law of the countries where the property is located. UAE law deals clearly with property that is located in the UAE. However, UAE law does not automatically apply to property and assets located outside the UAE, but rather the law of the country where such property and assets are located will generally apply.
The inheritance law in several jurisdictions treats men and women equally in respect of inheritance, whereas under Islamic Sharia, a male heir is entitled to twice the share of a female heir. What is the position under the conflict of law rules in the UAE in situations where the deceased and his heirs bear several nationalities and the estate is spread across several jurisdictions?
The law of the nationality of the deceased shall apply. As we have stated in part one of this series, Paragraph 2 of Article 1 of the UAE Personal Status Law (Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 Regarding Personal Status) states that the provisions of said law will apply to all UAE nationals, except where non-Muslim UAE nationals have special rules relating to inheritance that are specific to their creed or sect. Said provisions also state that the UAE Personal Status Law will apply to non UAE nationals as well, unless they choose their own law (ie, the law of the state to which they formally belong).
Explained another way, for non-UAE nationals, be they Christian or otherwise, the law that would apply to the division (between male and female heirs) of a deceased estate will be the law of the nationality to which the deceased belonged, provided that the deceased requests that such law be applied. If the deceased bore several nationalities, including UAE nationality, the laws of inheritance of the UAE will apply. If the deceased is not a UAE national, then the inheritance laws of his nationality will apply. As for the situation where the heirs belong to different nationalities, the law of the deceased will apply to them all - irrespective of their nationality - ie, they will receive a share of the deceased estate according to the law of the country to which the deceased formally belongs (i.e., bears its nationality).