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Wills and Succession Planning in UAE (An Overview)

A Will is a document that directs who will be entitled to your estate upon your death and the appointment of your legal representative to execute your wishes according to the document.

A Will is passed through a probate.  Probate is a proceeding where the Court oversees the administration of the Will and ensures that the Will is valid and the property gets distributed the way the deceased wanted. It’s not only a testament which defines the terms of distribution of the estate but it’s also used to declare the guardian of the  minor children and specification of the funeral arrangements.

Each country has different rules and regulations on inheritance matters, which are normally formulated based on customs, legal system, religious beliefs etc. United Arab Emirates, having Islam as an official religion, follows principles of Sharia as the law of the land. The interpretation of inheritance rules is also observed as per the principles of Sharia by the UAE courts. In the present regime, the expatriate population in UAE has the provision of planning their succession documents under the Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 regarding Civil Transactions Law, and the Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 regarding the UAE Personal Status Law. The UAE civil code allows a non-Muslim expatriate to apply his personal laws in matters of inheritance pursuant to Article 17 (1), which states “inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death”, and it furthers specifies the disposal of freehold immovable assets present in UAE by means of drawing a Will as stated in Article 17 (5) states that UAE law “shall apply to wills made by aliens disposing of their real property located in the state”.

Likewise, Article 1(2) of Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 allows non-Muslim expatriates, with assets in the UAE to make a Will in accordance with their country’s personal law, his or her UAE estate instead of Sharia-based rules provided that the Will has been translated in Arabic and duly notarized by Notary public in UAE at the time of inheritance adjudication before UAE Courts.

But due to the increase of international population settled here in UAE and the acquisition of immovable and valuable assets by the expatriate residents, it’s the need of the hour for the applicability of personal international laws while understanding the terms of distribution of their assets in UAE as well as the assets in their home country.

Most expatriates do not realize how important it is to be aware of the legal system applicable in their country of domicile and the difference between the UAE’s legal system which will be applied to their estate in case they pass away intestate. When it comes to succession planning, it is good to be aware of the intricacies of the law and the remedies available in order to avoid a costly, time-consuming and legally complex procedure of the future adjudications.

The following are the repercussions of dying intestate:

  • Bank Accounts (joint/personal) get frozen.
  • Dependent Visas are cancelled.
  • Sharia principles may apply to the distribution of your assets.
  • Guardianship of the minor children can get delayed until the Court appoints the same.
  • Assets might not get distributed to your family as per the inheritance laws of your home country.
  • Divorced spouses can claim a share in your assets.
  • Any other Investments can get delayed.

Under the present regime, expatriates may get their Will registered with the Dubai Courts by having it translated into Arabic and notarized from Dubai Notary Public. It can also be attested from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE and the respective consulates of the home countries for using the Will overseas.

DIFC Wills

In order to create a favorable legal framework for expatriates living or having assets in Dubai, Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) has come up with DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (DIFC WPR) to address the concerns of expatriates and provide certainty in inheritance and succession matters. The DIFC works on the model of common law with considerations to the laws of inheritance of the domicile of the applicants. It also appreciates the essence of the Sharia principles with regards to the maintenance of the cultural heritage of the UAE. One need to be aware that DIFC Wills can cover only those assets that are located or fall under the jurisdiction of the Emirate of Dubai.

DIFC (WPR) provides to the expatriate community an easy and unambiguous mechanism of succession planning. A DIFC Will can be drafted by any DIFC approved Wills draftsmen and the same can be registered just by filling an instruction form and paying the prescribed fees.

At Mimo Legal, we, as a team of experienced legal professionals offer highly efficient and strategic legal advice to plan your estate systematically by minimizing legal risks and safeguarding assets and family’s best interest against fortuitous events.

Author: Shruti Tripathi, Legal Associate