"The royal court announces to Arab and Islamic countries and the rest of the world the death of the leader of the nation Shaikh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan on Tuesday evening," said an announcement read out on Abu Dhabi television.
Aljazeera television interrupted its regular programmes to announce his death.
All UAE-based television channels switched from their scheduled programmes to broadcast Quranic verses after the announcement.
Under the UAE constitution, Vice-President and Prime Minister Shaikh Maktum bin Rashid Al Maktum, ruler of Dubai, will act as president until the federal council, which groups rulers of the seven emirates, meets within 30 days to elect a new
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Shaikh
Khalifa (R) will take over as ruler
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid Al Nahyan, a son of Shaikh Zayid, will automatically take over as ruler of the capital. Official sources expect the council to elect Shaikh Khalifa as the next president of the oil-rich federation and Opec member.
UAE officials were not immediately available to give details on the death or funeral arrangements.
Shaikh Zayid had led the UAE since its formation in 1971. His death followed reports that his health had deteriorated and he had not been seen in public recently.
In 2000, he received a kidney transplant at a US clinic. He also broke his hip in the clinic, leaving him with a slight limp, and he was said to also suffer from a chronic eye problem.
In 2003, he paved the way for a smooth transfer of power after his death, appointing his son Shaikh Muhammad as deputy crown prince of Abu Dhabi which puts him second in line to rule Abu Dhabi after the succession of his brother Shaikh Khalifa.
On Sunday, a cabinet reshuffle brought in a new energy minister, Muhammad bin Dhaain al-Hamli, and the first woman into government, economy and planning minister Shaikha Lubna al-Qasimi.