UAE amends laws on public notaries and inheritance

The UAE Cabinet approved, on 9 November, a raft of amendments to laws governing evidence in civil and commercial transactions in order to enable public notaries to do their job remotely and to enhance the digital transformation of government services. The move followed the announcement of sweeping changes to the UAE’s legal system in respect of family law and other areas affecting people’s daily lives.

The term ‘notary public’ refers to those authorised by the country’s judicial authorities to attest and notarise legal documents. The amendments essentially allow notaries to do their job remotely and use teleconferencing. They also provide for the use of digital signatures and documents, e-hearing minutes that document witness testimonies, as well as the decisions of judges and signed notary documents.

Under the amendments, documents must be created and saved electronically and will be kept confidential and may not be circulated, copied or deleted from the electronic system without permission from the relevant administration of the notary public at the ministry.

The move follows sweeping changes announced to the UAE’s legal system in respect of inheritance and succession, as well as other areas affecting people’s daily lives, which are designed to make the UAE more attractive to expatriate individuals and as a destination for foreign direct investment.

The changes will see the UAE’s Islamic forced heirship provisions replaced by alternative measures for non-Emiratis. This means that the distribution of the estate of a non-Emirati individual can now be dealt with under the rules of their home country. Similar provisions will also apply on the division of property in the event of a divorce.

Previously Sharia forced heirship provisions determined the division of a UAE resident individual’s assets on death unless a will was registered with the Dubai International Financial Centre wills and probate registry or Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

Under the new regime, the rules of the country where the deceased is a citizen should now dictate how their assets are divided, unless they have written a will. UAE real estate will continue to be distributed according to the existing UAE rules.

The changes represent the UAE’s latest measures aimed at ensuring the country remains attractive to expatriate individuals and as a destination of choice for foreign direct investment – and should give additional comfort around succession issues and planning for many of the UAE’s expat residents and private business owners. Drinking alcohol and cohabiting outside marriage are also to be permitted.

The legal reforms are designed to “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance”, according to a report issued by government news agency WAM, as it adapts to changing norms at home and prepares to host the World Expo next year. The gathering, delayed for a year by coronavirus, is expected to draw 25 million visitors.

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