Dubai expats can now for the first time register wills under an internationally recognised common law, following the introduction of new laws last week.
Expats’ wills have historically been subject to Sharia law, which limits the scope for their possessions to be distributed where intended after death.
Sharia law insists on “fixed share allocation”, where each family member gets a fixed share according to various factors. So, until now, the family of a deceased expat with a bank balance and other assets in Dubai, but no will, would have faced a long and painful legal process to release their loved ones’ estate.
Even if you do make a will in Dubai, the process of carrying out your wishes in the event of your death would be prolonged as the document would not be globally recognised and could still be affected by Sharia principles when examined in court.
However, last week, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) became the first jurisdiction in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region where non-Muslim expats can register an English language will under a globally recognised legal system similar to those in Singapore and Malaysia.
The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry has been established under the jurisdiction of the DIFC so that it can operate as an entity independent from UAE laws and significantly ease the process for expats’ grieving relatives.
“There were previously two issues,” DIFC Courts’ chief executive and registrar Mark Beer told Arabian Business. “First, there was the personal angle. At a time when families are grieving the death of a loved one, prolonged inheritance processes can cause a lot of distress. There have been many heart-rending cases where families couldn’t expedite the transfer of their loved one’s assets, creating situations where they couldn’t drive their car, renew their residency visas or send their children to school.
“Secondly, there is the question of financial risk. Financial advisers will tell expats there is a risk their estates will not be distributed as per their wishes after their death. Uncertainty over inheritance processes increases the possibility of capital flight, and also is an impediment to inward investment. It would be unfortunate if expats transfer their wealth generated here overseas because of this uncertainty, or people outside Dubai don’t invest in Dubai for the same reason.”
Michael Hwang, SC, head of the dispute resolution authority and chief justice of DIFC Courts, said: “The objective of the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry is to give expatriates a legal solution to secure their family’s future after their death.
“The registry creates legal certainty that the testator’s Dubai-based assets will be distributed as set out in their registered wills. The new regime reflects the spirit of existing UAE laws."
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