Dealing with a spouse’s death as an expat in Dubai

Published:  26 Jul at 6 PM
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Tagged: Dubai, UAE, Money
The death of a partner whilst on reassignment overseas isn’t something any expatriate wants to think about but, in certain circumstances, it can cause major financial disruption as well as grief.

Rules about inheriting money should a partner die are different across the world and can be confusing, especially for those grieving the unexpected loss of a husband or wife. For expatriates living and working in Dubai, it can be especially galling, as joint accounts are frozen after the death is reported, making it very difficult to access living money whilst arranging for the necessities of burial.

It’s fairly normal for expat couples to have several joint accounts in local banks, as it’s easier to keep track of finances if both have access to the same stash and have separate payment cards. Dubai’s rules on this in the case of death are that all joint accounts must be suspended until the court has issued a succession certificate to the deceased’s heir or heirs. The accounts are only blocked temporarily, but bereaved spouses can’t pay bills, buy food or even arrange a funeral until the legal process is completed.

One expat husband whose wife died unexpectedly found himself in this position, unable to conduct the most basic transactions, even although their joint account held almost a million dirhams. Luckily for him, he had a small amount of cash in his wallet and rushed to his bank to open another account, inform them of the tragic circumstances and arrange for his monthly salary to be transferred to the new account. The following day was pay day, meaning direct debits wouldn’t be interrupted and the month’s living costs could be covered.

Sadly, it took a full five months for him to be able to access the funds in his and his deceased wife’s joint account, as the couple hadn’t a UAE-written will and their home country will wasn’t recognised. When the court finally allowed access to the cash, it had to be distributed to the widower and his children according to Sharia law. He received 25 per cent, as did his daughter, but his son was given 50 per cent, although this didn’t bother him as the money was being kept within the close family unit.

However, for Western expats finding themselves in a similar situation, the court’s decision may cause huge problems, as it’s far more common for Western families to break up and go their separate ways. Even if the family unit is intact, the common sense solution to avoiding almost half a year’s worth of Arab bureaucracy is for expat couples to have separate bank accounts and make sure their wills are legally and properly drawn up by a local lawyer.
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