The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has formed the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, which allows non-Muslim individuals owning assets within Dubai to freely dispose of their Dubai estate in the event of death.

Following her involvement with the creation of the registry, which starts today, Dubai-based solicitor Nita Maru answers key questions on the issue and explains the new rules in light of the current UAE laws governing non-Muslim individuals and what they mean for non-Muslim expatriates.

On death, how are the UAE assets of a non-Muslim dealt with?
Currently, the distribution of such assets is guided by UAE federal law (Personal Status Law and the Civil Transactions Code) and public order in accordance with Sharia custom and principles. Following a death, the UAE Courts will examine an estate and potentially distribute it according to Sharia law, where distributions are as per fixed share ratios.

What are the specific inheritance distributions?
Under Sharia law, a surviving wife who has children qualifies for one eighth of her husband’s estate, and a surviving husband who has children qualifies for one quarter of his wife’s estate.
The remainder of the estate will be distributed among other family members, depending on who survives the deceased as at the date of death.

What about guardianship?
While a surviving wife may be appointed as a custodian of any children of the marriage, she may not automatically be appointed as the legal guardian. A surviving husband is likely to be appointed as a custodian and legal guardian of any children of the marriage.

Can a non-Muslim make a will under UAE federal law?
A non-Muslim individual can make a will in accordance with UAE law and procedures. Such a will expresses an intention for moveable assets situated in the UAE to pass in accordance with the testator’s home country law. However, the application of home country law to immoveable assets (real estate) remains a grey area in the UAE courts.

It is important to realize that the application of such will, in addition to UAE law, is at the full discretion of the UAE courts. This is something that creates uncertainty and results in expatriates retaining funds outside of the UAE.

What are the benefits of registering a will at the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry now it is available?
The DIFC will be the first jurisdiction in the MENA region where non-Muslims can register a will under common law inheritance rules. Such Wills can be registered from today and will promote certainty among expatriates, promote investment in the region and avoid family members becoming involved in uncertain proceedings that can be encountered in the UAE Courts.

What are the requirements for registering a will at the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry?
The testator must not be of Muslim faith, must be over the age of 21 years and have assets situated in Dubai. It is not a requirement to have a UAE residence visa. If a testator wishes to make provision for guardianship of their minor children then the children must be living with the testator in Dubai.

How much are the registration fees at the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry?
With DIFC’s registration fee proposed at $2,800 (Dhs10,000) per will, it is of course for each individual to assess their own financial and family circumstances and the associated benefits of adopting the DIFC rules.

Where can I obtain further information?
Should you wish to prepare a DIFC Will, it is prudent to seek the advice of a correctly licensed solicitor.

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