If you are a non-Muslim female property owner in Dubai, how do you protect your property? A new statistic released by the Dubai government says that around 30 per cent of Dubai’s property is owned by women. The information came from Sultan Butti Bin Mejren, director general of the Dubai Land Department, who said that this shows the accumulation of large amounts of wealth in female hands.
This shows the UAE as an open and progressive country where men and women are free to make their own choices about investment, according to their own judgement. But as a lawyer, the news also brought a question into my mind. How do the many non-Muslim female property owners in Dubai deal with the delicate question of inheritance?
Research has shown that Western women are the ones to prompt their husband to make a will, while Muslim women have a predetermined inheritance structure. That system has been challenged by female protestors in Tunisia, where the government is reviewing the traditional inheritance rules. But overall it’s a system that has applied in Muslim legal systems throughout the centuries, and it continues to be implemented across the Islamic world.
For non-Muslims, though, it raises sensitive issues. Women or men with valuable assets may not wish to allocate their wealth according to Sharia; instead they want to decide for themselves the beneficiaries. In the UAE, there is a solution. The governments of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah allow non-Muslims with assets to register a will that will distribute their estates according to their preferences.
It’s provided through the DIFC Courts, part of the Dubai International Financial Centre, which offers a legal system based on English Common Law. The DIFC Wills Service Centre offers a variety of services, covering everything from bequeathing property to the guardianship of children.
Most pertinent to female homeowners — and indeed male ones — is the property will. This protects up to five properties in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, allowing you to choose who will inherit them, if the worst were to happen.
Also available are financial asset wills, protecting cash, government securities and stocks and shares, as long as they are held by a bank or brokerage in Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah.
Mothers bringing up children will also be interested in the guardianship will. This allows you to name interim guardians in the UAE for your offspring and also permanent guardians, often family or friends in the home country. Finally, you can bring all these elements together in the full will, covering all assets and also guardianship.
Many families find that a mirror full will suits their needs, as it allows both parents to create documents that “mirror” their wishes over guardianship and distribution of assets.
The DIFC Wills Service Centre has registered well over 3,500 wills and its own statistics reflect a growing number of female property owners in Dubai. In 2016 and 2017, 38 per cent of those registering a will were women. But if three in 10 of all properties in Dubai are owned by women, that means there are many thousands more owning very valuable assets who have no effective will in place.
In the rush and pressures of daily life, they may wish to consider if choosing who will ultimately benefit from their acquired wealth should become a higher priority as they organise their financial affairs.