Your rights as an heir when a family member dies
Women and men have an equal right under Saudi law to inherit upon the death of a family member — but how are those rights guaranteed, and what issues might you encounter in dealing with the various official entities and authorities while trying to secure your inheritance?
A deceased person who has left a will is known legally as a testator, and the heirs of a testator have an unalloyed legal right to what remains of the estate after the payment of all the testator’s debts and the execution of the will. Each of the heirs must be given their share of the inheritance at any time they request, and the denial of this right is prohibited by both Shariah and Saudi law.
A common error made by many heirs is to assume that they are not entitled to query any information or request any action without the consent of all the other heirs. In fact, any heir — either in person or through a lawyer — is entitled to inquire about all matters related to an inheritance, whether to the courts, to the banks or to financial market authorities.
In addition, any heir has the right to ensure that the notary public supplies all required information about properties and authorizations without referring to the other heirs.
Any heir is also entitled to make inquiries at a bank in relation to the testator’s assets, accounts and banking transactions, although obviously the bank will require to see documents such as the death certificate, the certificate of inheritance and, if a lawyer is acting on behalf of the heir, a power of attorney. Any such information supplied by the bank should be in the form of an official letter, delivered in a manner confirming the identity of the recipient.
Many heirs complain of excessive bureaucracy in dealing with the Capital Market Authority in relation to a testator’s investment accounts. There is no reason for this; as with the banks, once an heir has submitted documents to prove identity, the authority is required by law to provide an accurate and detailed letter explaining the testator’s investments.
The Public Pension Agency has also made clear that a deceased member’s wife, sons under 21 and unmarried daughters are entitled to the deceased’s pension. This may also apply to other relatives who can prove to the agency that they were dependent on the deceased pensioner.
Similarly, the General Organization for Social Insurance, which guarantees a salary for private sector employees after they die, will distribute that salary among the heirs, all of it if there are three or more, 75 percent if there are two, and 50 percent to a sole heir.
Hereditary rights are clear, therefore, and all the required information is readily available. For anyone in doubt, official and judicial authorities welcome all inquiries or complaints about the rights and empowerment of heirs.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif