ABU DHABI // Expatriates are being warned that their assets will be split according to Sharia if they do not have a will.
This means that if there are no sons in the family, the parents, brothers and sisters of the deceased get a bigger share.
Even assets shared between a husband and wife will be frozen until the inheritance is sorted out.
Lt Col Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, the editor in chief of the Ministry of Interior's 999 Magazine, said many people were not aware of the country's inheritance laws and only between 10 and 20 per cent had a will.
"There's a need for residents to be aware of the inheritance rules in the country," he said. "This is important to preserve peace and harmony within the family, which forms the basic unit of our society."
Michael Barney Almazar, director of the commercial department of Gulf Law, told the magazine:"This is a real concern as each circumstance is different and certain rules may not apply given their national law, especially on tax implications in their country of citizenship."
The magazine found many people had struggled to get money frozen by banks after a family member had died in the UAE.
To avoid having to abide by Sharia, a will must be drawn up and attested by the individual's embassy.
Yousef Al Bahar, of the Dubai law firm Al Bahar and Associates, said non-Muslims did not know enough about inheritance law.
As Sharia differs depending on which family member has died, it can be difficult to understand.
Nita Maru, a solicitor and the founder of TWS Legal Consultants, a company specialising in wills, inheritance and succession planning requirements in the UAE, said: "For expatriates living in the UAE, there is a very simple reason to make a will. The Government of Dubai's official website states that the UAE Courts will adhere to Sharia in any situation where there is no will in place.
"If you die without a will, intestate, the local courts will deal with your estate and distribute it in fixed shares, prescribed according to the heirship rules of Sharia.
"While this may work for some, Sharia fixed-share distribution may not be right for many."
Upon a person's death, all personal assets, including bank accounts, are frozen, Ms Maru said, until liabilities had been discharged.
"A wife who has children will qualify for only one-eighth of the estate and, without a will or estate planning in place, this distribution will be applied automatically," she said. "Even shared assets will be frozen until the issue of inheritance is determined by the local courts."
Faiza Moussa, a legal consultant in Abu Dhabi, said Sharia rules on inheritance were clear to Muslims.
"Any Muslim who reads the Quran will read about this," she said. "Everyone knows, for example, the son gets double the daughter."
Ms Moussa said inheritance in Islam worked as a pyramid, with the heirs greater and further out in an extended family than you might see in other religions or countries.