Legal Wills for Expats in UAE

Expat in Dubai?  There's a good chance you need a will… 

It’s common knowledge that almost everyone needs a Will. But a public secret is that too many people don’t get around to it – because we come from countries where we think the law is ‘fair’, and so don’t have a sense of urgency to getting a Will drafted. But inheritance laws in Dubai are not as straightforward as those in some Western countries. If an expatriate with assets in Dubai passes away, the laws of their home country will not automatically apply to those assets.

If you live in Dubai, then you will know you are living in a country with Sharia law. And the UAE Courts will adhere to Sharia law in any situation where there is no Will in place.

What does this mean if you have assets in UAE?

It means that if you don’t have a Will, your estate will be distributed according to Sharia law; i.e. in fixed share ratios. The most commonly known rule is that a son receives twice as much as a daughter (i.e. ratio of 2:1). Also, a surviving wife who has children will be allocated one-eighth of her husband’s estate, and a surviving husband who has children will be allocated one-quarter of his wife’s estate. The remainder of the estate will be distributed amongst other family members.

Moreover, the UAE does not provide for ‘right of survivorship’ – jointly owned property does not automatically pass on to the survivor upon death of the other.

Furthermore, all personal assets of the deceased, including bank accounts, will be frozen until liabilities have been discharged. This happens quickly – sometimes within just a few hours. If you have ‘death in service benefit’, a kind of life insurance arranged by your employer, this too may be frozen until all liabilities are discharged.

Guardianship of your children

Whilst a surviving husband is likely to be appointed as custodian and legal guardian of any minor children of the marriage, a surviving wife will not automatically be appointed as legal guardian of the children. So it is absolutely crucial to have a Will that details your wishes concerning legal guardianship of your children.

To remove uncertainty for expatriates regarding distribution of their estate, and avoid family members being involved in proceedings in the UAE courts, the Dubai International Financial Centre Wills and Probate Registry was established.

The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry

The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry gives non-Muslims living in Dubai the option to pass on their assets and/or appoint guardians for their children. A correctly drafted Will can be registered under common law inheritance rules. To use the DFC Wills and Probate Registry, you must not be of the Muslim faith, must be over 21 years old, and have assets in the UAE. To register provisions for guardianship of your children, they must reside with you in Dubai (or RAK).

A qualified legal professional will be able to handle the registry of your Will, as well as it’s drafting.

Other issues to be aware of

If a husband or wife is employed in Dubai, and is the sponsor of their partner and children to live here, be aware that on their death all residency visas are cancelled, and the family will have to leave the UAE within 30 days. There are possible ways to avoid this, and it’s best to discuss with your lawyer at the time you draft your Will.

Use a professional, legal expert to help you draft your Will, and avoid stress and uncertainty for your loved ones if something happens to you.

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