Guide for expats preparing your Wills in the United Arab Emirates
UAE Laws Series. 20 March 2023
The secret has long been out...Dubai has been voted time and time again as one of the most exciting and livable cities in the world. Such is its' prestige and modern living that Dubai and most of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become home to a significant number of foreigners over the years. Many expatriates and foreigners have thrived in UAE and chose to spend years working and living in the UAE. Naturally, in the usual course of wealth accumulation, expats and foreigners would have acquired assets and properties to supplement their livelihood and lifestyle in UAE, especially in a fashionable and fast paced city-state such as Dubai.
Due to this, there is a growing need for foreigners to make arrangements to ensure the transfer of their assets in the event of their death. It is important for expats living in Dubai or Abu Dhabi to consider writing a will to ensure that their assets are protected and distributed according to their wishes. This article seeks to provide guidance to preparing and registering a Will for non Muslims in the UAE as Muslims expat would have to conform to Islamic laws of inheritance which we would look at in the next article.
Understand the Legal Framework
Another critical aspect that foreigners should consider when drafting a will in the UAE is the Sharia law. The Sharia law is the Islamic law that governs most aspects of life in the UAE, including the division of assets upon death. Under Sharia law, the distribution of assets is governed by a set of rules that are based on the relationship between the deceased and their heirs. These rules may not be in line with an individual's wishes, particularly if they have a non-traditional family structure or if they wish to distribute their assets in a specific way.
If a non-Muslim does not include provisions within their will that address the Sharia law requirements, the distribution of their assets may be decided by a Sharia court, which may distribute the assets differently from what the testator intended.
Foreigners residing in the UAE are allowed to draft a will that specifies the division of their assets upon their death. This is made possible through Article 1(2) of the Personal Law which allows non-Muslims to draft a will in the UAE. However, it is essential to note that wills are subject to the UAE Personal Law, which means that the assets outlined in the will could be distributed differently from what the testator intended if the will is not drafted correctly.
Article 1 (2) of the Personal Law reads :
"Article (1) 2. The provisions of this Law shall apply to citizens of the United Arab Emirates State unless non-Muslims among them have special provisions applicable to their community or confession. They shall equally apply to non-citizens unless one of them asks for the application of his law. "
The UAE also introduced Federal Law No. 28 of 2005 on Personal Status, which allows non-Muslims to opt for the law of their home country to govern the distribution of their assets in the event of their death.
Recently introduced new laws and templates make the process of drafting a will easier for non-Muslim foreigners. Expats with real estate investments in the UAE can now specify in their wills how they want their assets to be distributed. The entire process of registering a will can be completed online, and there are English language options available for those who prefer it It is important for expats living in Dubai or Abu Dhabi to consider writing a will to ensure that their assets are protected and distributed according to their wishes
To ensure that the will complies with the laws of the UAE, it is crucial to work with a qualified lawyer who understands the legal system and the requirements for UAE wills. Lawyers can provide guidance on issues such as the prescribed form for wills, the witnesses required during the drafting and signing of the will, and the allocation of assets, among others.
Appointing a legal practitioner to prepare the Will
One popular choice is to reach out to a legal practitioner registered with DIFC Courts. The legal practitioner can then draft the will following the basic requirements. Once the will is drafted, it needs to be registered with the DIFC Wills Service Centre or Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD).
The UAE recognizes two types of wills: notarial and holographic. A notarial will is a formal will that is drafted by a notary public, while a holographic will is a handwritten will that is signed and dated by the testator. Notarial wills are more common and are recommended for foreigners due to the complex legal system in the UAE.
To make it easier to comprehend the usual steps to preparing the Will, here is a step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Determine Your Assets and Heirs
The first step in drafting a will in the UAE is to determine your assets and heirs. This includes identifying all of your assets, such as bank accounts, properties, and investments, and determining how you want them to be distributed. It is also important to identify your heirs and beneficiaries, including family members, friends, and charities.
Step 2: Consult with a Lawyer and Choose your choice of law
Once you have determined your assets and heirs, the next step is to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with the UAE’s legal system. A lawyer can provide guidance on the legal framework for wills in the UAE, including the laws on inheritance and probate. They can also help you draft a will that complies with the relevant laws. Expats should consider whether they want their home country’s law to govern the distribution of their assets or whether they want to use the UAE’s laws. If they choose their home country’s law, they should ensure that their will complies with the relevant laws.
Step 3: Choose Your Executor
The executor is the person who will manage your estate after your death. It is important to choose an executor who is trustworthy and who is familiar with the UAE’s legal system. Your lawyer can provide guidance on choosing an executor and can help you appoint them in your will.
Step 4: Identify Your Guardians
If you have minor children, it is important to appoint a guardian in your will. The guardian will be responsible for the care of your children after your death. Your lawyer can provide guidance on appointing a guardian and can help you ensure that your wishes are clearly stated in your will.
Step 5: Draft Your Will
Once you have consulted with a lawyer and identified your assets, heirs, executor, and guardians, the next step is to draft your will. Your lawyer can help you draft a will that is in accordance with the relevant laws and that clearly states your wishes for the distribution of your assets.
Step 6: Sign Your Will
After your will has been drafted, you will need to sign it in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries. The witnesses must be present when you sign the will and must be able to attest to your mental capacity and that you signed the will willingly.
Registering Your Will
Once your will is drafted, it is recommended to register your will to ensure that your wishes are followed after your death and avoid disputes among heirs.
What is more convenient is that the entire process of registering a will can also be completed online. It is important to note that there are English language options available for those who prefer it. The costs involved in drafting a will may vary depending on the complexity of the case and other factors.
To register a will in the UAE, expats can either visit the offices of Wills Registration Office at Abu Dhabi Judicial Department or DIFC Wills Service Center. The registration process can also be completed online through the portal of Abu Dhabi Judicial Department (ADJD). Along with the will, an application for Legal Heir Certificate has to be applied. The legal heirs have to produce two male witnesses of the same nationality as that of the testator. Once approved, the will is registered and applicable in all Emirate. The costs of registering a will may vary depending on factors such as complexity and location but is estimated to be around AED 2,000.
Foreigners residing in the UAE should also think about the distribution of their assets outside of the UAE, particularly their home country. It is essential to work with a lawyer who understands both the UAE and the foreign jurisdiction's legal systems in which the assets are to be distributed in accordance with their wishes. By taking these steps, you can have peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will be taken care of after your death.
The UAE Laws Series in our ongoing weekly series published every Monday to talk about the different laws in the UAE concerning businesses, foreign investments and the related laws and regulations promulgated to provide a helpful and reliable guide whether you are seeking to be employed in the UAE or doing business in the UAE. This is not intended to substitute a qualified UAE lawyer or legal consultant's legal advice. Our legal partners in the UAE are ready on hand to assist you in all of your enquiries and needs. You can email me at email@example.com to know more.