If you are an expatriate in the UAE and have property and/or assets, you must have a lifetime strategy to protect them. If you do not, Sharia law will apply to your estate, meaning your loved ones will not be able to benefit, which could leave them subject to financial hardship.
There are five primary vehicles for protecting assets and property in the UAE:
- A DIFC Will
- An Abu Dhabi Will
- Gifting of Property
- Transferring the assets to a holding company or trust
All five of these vehicles require an investment in legal advice to ensure they are set up correctly. However, once they are in place, and you have a relationship with an advisor who you can work with over the long-term to manage changes in your situation, you can relax knowing your UAE property and assets are well protected.
Although we have emphasised this fact many times, it is worth repeating – if you die without a Will in the UAE, your estate will be distributed according to Sharia law where the distribution of your assets are fixed.
Furthermore, a mother does not automatically obtain guardianship of her children should their father die in the UAE without a Will.
Let us look briefly at the three vehicles for protecting your property and assets in the UAE.
A DIFC Will
The DIFC Wills Service Centre allows non-Muslim expatriates to create Wills under similar laws to the jurisdiction of England and Wales and provides for testamentary freedom rather than the forced heirship regime under Sharia law.
As long as you are over 21 years, are not a Muslim, and have assets in the UAE, you can register a DIFC Will.
You will need a DIFC registered Wills draftsman to create your Will. Not only will registering a DIFC Will allow you to transfer your assets as you wish, but the probate process is also simpler and effective than that which applies to non-DIFC Wills.
Abu Dhabi Wills
The Abu Dhabi Courts Judicial Department has created the Abu Dhabi Wills Registry to provide an option for non-Muslims with assets in Abu Dhabi/UAE and/or children to opt-out of Sharia law and to register their alternative wishes.
The Abu Dhabi Wills Registry is an important development for non-Muslim expatriates to ensure their wishes are correctly documented and registered with the peace of mind that Sharia principles will not apply to their Abu Dhabi estate.
You can transfer assets and/or property as a gift; however, you will need to follow strict legal procedures.
A gift can only be made to your spouse or children. Although you will need to pay registration fees, you will save money on the transfer fee.
Placing the property in a holding company or a trust
Property and assets can be transferred into a holding company or a trust which removes it from your ownership.
A holding company is a separate legal entity. You can become the main shareholder in the company, meaning you still have control over the property and/or assets it holds.
A trust is better described as a relationship. A settlor creates a trust which is managed by trustees for the benefit of the beneficiaries. A trust could, therefore, be set up to protect your property and assets for your spouse, children, and grandchildren.
As the UAE is a civil law jurisdiction, it provides for the setting up of Foundations. Foundations are a legal entity which can hold wealth and assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Investors or residents of the UAE can structure their assets through a Foundation. There are several advantages of a DIFC or ADGM Foundation, including:
- No corporation tax
- Solid governance structure
- The founders and beneficiaries’ identities remain confidential
- Low set up costs
Foundations must have a council to administer the property and assets, and action the objectives stated in the Foundation documents.
By having a DIFC Will and/or gifting assets or placing them in a holding company or a trust, foundation, you will ensure that as an expatriate living in the UAE, or an investor your wealth is protected. An experienced private client Solicitor can assist you in setting up the best vehicle to safeguard your property whilst you are residing in the region.
To find out how we can assist you with all of the above lifetime planning vehicles, please contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +971 4 448 4284.