Many expatriates in the UAE are unaware that in the absence of a will recognised by the UAE legal system, the process of transferring real estate assets after death can be time consuming, costly and fraught with legal complexity. In the absence of a registered will, the division of assets is governed by the mandatory rules under Islamic law and any division to the heirs occurs after paying of debts. Typically, the wife, son, daughter, father, mother, brother and sister would inherit a portion of the estate. While this represents the default position which applies to all Muslims irrespective of nationality, there is an opt-out option for non-Muslims and expatriates upon request.
The UAE Civil Code stipulates that the law of the home country of a non-Muslim can be applied to matters of inheritance as defined by Article 17 (1), which states “inheritance shall be governed by the law of the deceased at the time of his death”.
However, the will must be proved before the Inheritance Court, a process greatly expedited if the will had been translated into Arabic and notarised in the UAE or registered in a Dubai court.
Launched in May 2015, DIFC Resolution No. 4 of 2014 allows non-Muslims to register wills in respect of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah real estate assets with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Wills Service. This allows individuals to have testamentary freedom to dispose their assets as they wish by aid of a simple probate process before the DIFC courts. The DIFC currently offers guardianship will, property will, full will and free-zone company will. The registration fee for a single DIFC will is Dh10,000 plus value-added tax, with the other wills carrying differing registration fees.
The recently approved Law No. 15 of 2017 relates to estate management and execution of wills of non-Muslims in Dubai. This law will permit registration of wills by non-Muslims with the local courts.
Within the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department there is a separate section that is solely for the registration of non-Muslim wills, wherein non-Muslims can have full testamentary capacity to leave their Abu Dhabi assets to their heirs. The process is relatively simple and straightforward and the registration cost of the will is Dh5,000.
Abdulla Khaled, Aruna Mukherji and Ruksana Elahi are associates at Al Tamimi & Company. The views expressed here are their own.