Wills and succession are the areas of law that deal with the transfer of assets and property after a person’s death. These laws determine how a person’s estate is distributed among their beneficiaries and provide mechanisms for ensuring the wishes of the deceased are carried out. A will, which is also known as a testament, is a legal document that outlines the wishes and instructions of a deceased person regarding the distribution of their assets and the appointment of guardians for minor children, if applicable. A will allows individuals to have control over how their estate is distributed and who will manage the process. By writing a Will, a testator has the autonomy to decide in what manner his or her assets shall be dealt with and to whom it shall be given after his or her death.
Before writing a Will, the testator needs to consider the following: –
- Appointment of Executor(s) / Trustee(s).
- Appointment of Guardian(s).
- Particulars of Beneficiaries.
- List of assets owned by the testator.
- Specific gifts vs. Residuary estate.
- Manner of distribution of the assets (to whom, in what proportion, and in what manner).
- Living arrangements of a minor child.
- Miscellaneous (e.g., funeral wishes, a donation to charity, etc.)
Wills do not need to be registered in the UAE because it is not required. Despite this, it is highly recommended that expatriates living in the UAE or those who own movable or immovable property in the UAE register a will pertaining to their movable and immovable assets, including real estate, investments, and any bank accounts in the UAE. This is done to avoid the legal complications that the legal heirs may face on the death of a testator, which is the person who grants the will.
You will need to ensure that the contents and language of the Will are in order and that the Will is executed appropriately. Failure to do so can result in a Will to be invalid, thus not legally binding. If you engage a lawyer, the process is much more straightforward as the lawyer will guide you in every step and ensure that all requirements of the Will are met. Further, a lawyer can provide advice on how best to structure the contents of the Will if you intend to have a more complicated distribution of assets (e.g., setting up of trusts for children). In case a person of any religion dies intestate (without leaving a will), the courts may adhere to Sharia laws regarding inheritance of assets and custody of children (The spouse, children, father, mother, and siblings are the first heirs in line. Sharia is the primary legal jurisdiction on all family-related issues as per the constitution. If there are no heirs in the first line, the inheritance will pass to the next line of heirs. The distribution of inheritance will continue until all heirs have been given their shares).
Inheritance matters in the UAE are governed principally by two Federal Laws: The Personal Affairs Law of No.28 of 2005 which allows non-Muslim expats living in the UAE to opt to use the law of their own countries to distribute their assets in the UAE.
The other federal law in this area is the UAE Civil Code which governs the distribution of property of an expatriate, the movable property can be distributed according to the law of the land and immovable assets are distributed according to UAE laws as per Article 17 of the Code. In general, the legal process goes as follows:
- In Dubai, there are no juries as matters of inheritance are heard by just one or more judges.
- Opposed to some Western laws, Dubai does not have that system of precedent.
- Real estate inheritance issues in Dubai can be uncertain, as the UAE does not practice the ‘right of survivorship’ like Commonwealth jurisdictions.
- In case of the absence of a will or clear successor, local courts make the final decision regarding the ownership of property.
- Non-Muslim expatriates can take advantage of the DIFC and Wills Probate Registry (DIFC WPR) to ensure their Dubai property passes to their chosen heirs as per their wishes.
- Must be over 21 years of age.
- Must be a non-Muslim expatriate.
- Must have movable assets in the UAE.
Wills in UAE need to be:
- Translated into Arabic,
- Attested by the Dubai Courts or Notary, and
- Attested by the Indian Consulate.
Applicants who wish to have their Wills attested may be asked to provide proof of ownership of the assets mentioned in the Will. Applicants should submit the application to the Courts and to the Consulate personally or through a representative who must hold Power of Attorney that specifically mentions that he/ she has the authority to represent the Applicant for his/ her Will. The person making a Will should have readily available updated details of:
- Assets in the UAE (with proof of ownership).
- Liabilities, and to whom they are to be paid.
- Proof of residence through, e.g., recent utility bills.
- Passport copies of the entire family.
- Other official documents such as marriage certificates etc.
We often fail to realize that without a will, if any unfortunate incident occurs in the family, our hard-earned assets may not be passed on to the right benefactors. However, it’s advisable to get a will drafted by a legally qualified wills lawyer in Dubai, who will provide you with proper guidance on the legal implications. While making a will in Dubai can be expensive, doing so is a prudent and wise decision to be prepared for any situation in the future.
Dr. Manju Sharma
PhD in Medicinal patents