Property Inheritance Laws in Dubai for Expatriates and Non-Muslims: What Do You Know About Inheritance Rights?

Differences in Property Inheritance Laws from the West and from the UAE and Their Relevance to Non-Muslims and Expatriates 

If you have a significant asset to pass on to your heirs, like your home or company, you should be aware of the different inheritance laws. In this article, we will discuss these laws and how they apply to expatriates and non-Muslims living in Dubai.


Inheritance is a universal aspect of the aftermath of an individual’s death. A loved one’s death can cause many issues in families if there is no clear direction as to how the deceased belongings should be distributed. There are numerous cases in courts worldwide disputing the ownership of inherited belongings, especially where no official will is left behind that can clearly show the deceased person’s final wishes. It is essential for individuals living and working in foreign countries to understand the host country’s legal requirements and how they can affect you controlling your assets and finally bequeathing them to loved ones.

The differences in laws and culture can limit your ability to divide your belongings amongst those you care about.

Non-Muslim expatriates in Dubai, UAE

Expatriates make up a large percentage of the population of Dubai and the UAE. Expats are widely known to outnumber the actual Emiratis by about 80%. The number of these non-Muslim individuals continues to increase by the day. Because of the large number of non-Muslim expats, many invest in the country to purchase properties or hold their assets within the country. They mainly originate from home countries that are not majority Muslim and are in the western hemisphere.

For Non-muslim expats to survive in their new working and living environments, it is crucial to understand the cultural and social differences that affect the legal structure of the UAE and that of their home countries.

Differences between the West and the UAE 

The Western countries and the UAE are the complete opposites of each other given that the latter is predominantly Islamic with a population of Arabs. At the same time, the former has a variety of religions and racial/ethnic groups. The differences in culture, social structure, and faith affect how the legal system is set up. 

The UAE follows Sharia law while allowing for some level of interpretation from Islamic scholars and judges. Sharia law is a strict Islamic law that is considered sacred.

Conversely, the laws in western countries are based on theoretical concepts of governance, such as democracy. This is the first difference between the legal structures of the two. The UAE’s legal structure is based on religion and Islamic culture, while the western countries have legal systems based on the theories of governance and political ideologies.

The homogeneity of the Islamic society makes it easy to implement strict and specific rules that do not require much interpretation. Judges essentially exist to adjudicate on small matters while simply implementing the Sharia law to the fullest. Only the rarest of cases is likely to be given special treatment only when the conventional solutions are unsuitable.

On the other hand, Western countries’ diversity means that the laws have to be broad and generalized to consider all the possible outcomes. This means that judgments are made on a case-by-case status so that two judgments of the same case can be wildly different from each other. The courts have a much greater power to interpret and make judgments as they see fit.

Inheritance laws are the best illustration of the difference between the West and the UAE regarding their legal structures. Inheritance in Western countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom generally follows deceased persons’ wills as they are. For example, an individual can will their entire estate to a charitable cause even if they have some living relatives. In contrast, the inheritance laws in Dubai focus on the distribution of possessions among living relatives. 

There is a strict method of conducting this process whereby every member of the family receives their inheritance based on a rigid scheme that accounts for their familial relationship with the deceased, gender, and family status. There is a focus on the Islamic traditions on how to redistribute a dead individual’s items.

How are these differences relevant to me as an expat?

These differences are significant to all expats, especially those who are non-Muslim. It is vital to know the differences in inheritance laws because of the strictness of the Sharia law used in the UAE. Understanding these differences ensures that expats are conscious that the UAE’s consequences can be very severe. The property inheritance laws in the West may not apply to you even as a Non-Muslim expat. Therefore, you must take the legal structure in the UAE very seriously regarding your final will and testament if you want it distributed according to your home country’s laws.

Property Inheritance Law in Dubai
The property inheritance laws in the West may not apply to you even as a Non-Muslim expat.


The differences in social structure and culture affect the legal systems of countries. While it is clear that the UAE favors Sharia law, they are also recognizant that a large population is made up of expats. A few legal provisions are designed to help you remain in control of your assets even in death and determining one’s heirs.

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