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Why non-Muslim expats over 21 must draw up a will

Even if you don’t own property in UAE and are only a salaried employee, it’s critical for you to have a will, say experts

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Gulf News

Dubai: Over the last decade or so, there has been a ground shift in the way expatriates have begun to make lasting investments in the UAE and gathering assets. With many buying property, the need to consider the drawing up of a will becomes more imperative, particularly for non-Muslim expats, say field experts.

Even if an individual does not own property and is simply saving from salary, drawing up a will is critical. Even homemakers may express their last wish and choose the guardianship of their minor children should the worst happen, the experts said as the need to protect your family’s future and your assets is paramount in case something unexpected happens.

The right of survivorship, where assets are passed on to the surviving joint owner upon the death of the other, does not apply in the UAE. For Muslims, the court will automatically apply Sharia and distribute assets to predetermined beneficiaries.

For non-Muslims, options are available should they prefer to specifically itemise to whom their assets in the UAE should go to when they pass away, said Sean Hird, Director of the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (DIFC WPR).

The DIFC WPR, which covers assets in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, currently has 2,900 registered wills since opening in May 2015.

An average of 150 wills each month are registered, which means the awareness of the importance of writing wills is increasing.

“We are a government service providing choice. It’s all about giving people freedom of choice — either to follow Sharia or have a will. If you are a non-Muslim, you have a choice to do a DIFC will and opt into this system which will provide you with certainty,” Hird told Gulf News.

“If you don’t want to do that, then you have to follow the Sharia arrangements. The Sharia provides a predetermined arrangement as to who gets what percentage of your assets.”

Hird said any non-Muslim expatriate over the age of 21 and has something valuable in the UAE to pass on may choose to write a will. And the timing is also crucial.

“They should write a will as soon as they have assets to pass on. No one knows whether they will live till 80,” Hird said.

Writing a will is a way to protect your family, Summit Ahuja, estate planner at Just Legal Consultancy, said.

“It does not matter if you don’t have property or if you just have one bank account or if you’re just an employee,” Ahuja told Gulf News.

“If you are an employee, you are entitled to gratuity payments and ‘death in service’ benefits and, God forbid, if something happens to you, you are, at the end of the day, sitting on non-tangible assets.

“You might not be able to benefit from it while you’re alive but if something happens to you, that gets paid out.”

Ahuja said estate planning differs from person to person depending on their assets. Knowing which [type of planning] suits their needs is the key factor.

“There are customised options available for all types or categories of people depending on who you are, where you’re coming from, what kind of assets or estate you own, what your priorities are, what you want to secure, and what you wish for to happen in case something happens to you.”

Non-Muslims should seek legal advice in drafting a will and making their planning arrangements, Hird said.

A full list of registered draftsmen for wills is available on the DIFC WPR website

Testators should also review their wills every two to three years or whenever a major change happens like a divorce, a death in the family, or a new addition to the family and the like.

Hird said residents can have an idea how their assets will be distributed if they don’t have a will by clicking on the UAE Inheritance Calculator available on the DIFC WPR website.

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