DUBAI: Incorrectly drawn up wills are often found to be invalid and ineffective in the UAE and can lead to an estate being treated as if the person died intestate, i.e. without a will, a top legal expert has cautioned.
Nita Maru, solicitor and managing partner at TWS Legal Consultants, said wills that have been prepared by unqualified or unlicensed will writers or those that are homemade often have mistakes and clauses missing.
She said, “Under the laws of intestacy, your assets are distributed according to a statutory set of rules which leave a person’s estate to their next of kin in a fixed order. The slightest error or misunderstanding of the use of legal terms in a will can cause disputes or the will to be invalid.”
“You may think that your homemade will is clear, but you will not be there to clarify any misunderstanding or dispute between family members when the time comes,” Maru said. “Sometimes lawyers make more money dealing with family disputes over badly written wills than they ever could by writing wills in the first place.”
She said expats here should engage a licensed and registered lawyer to execute a will rather than undertaking the process themselves. “The administration of an estate process here is more complex than other jurisdictions. Homemade wills, including online templates, can lead to expensive problems. Important details can be left out, or the will could be invalid or lead to unexpected legal bills.”
Maru estimates that 60-80 per cent of adults don’t have a will in the UAE. “It is a mystery why most adults do not prepare their will. We all know it is an essential document; it describes how the estate should be distributed, it makes somebody responsible for carrying out the directions it contains (the executor), and it may name guardians for children.”
“Of equal concern is that most people with a will don’t review it when they marry or divorce, give birth to or adopt children, appoint or change guardians for children, when a beneficiary dies or they want to add other beneficiaries or a named executor or trustee is incapacitated or dies.”
Why do you need to make a will?
The Dubai Government’s official website states that ‘the UAE Courts will adhere to Sharia law in any situation where there is no will in place’. This means if you die without a will, the local courts will examine your estate and distribute it according to Sharia law.
All personal assets of the deceased, including bank accounts, will be frozen until liabilities have been discharged. Unlike other jurisdictions, the UAE does not practice ‘right of survivorship’ (property passing on to a surviving joint owner upon death of the other).
A wife who has children will qualify for only 1/8th of the estate, and without a valid will, this distribution will be applied automatically.
Even shared assets will be frozen until the issue of inheritance is determined by the local courts, and surviving family members are often left without access to money during this period.
The absence of a will may also goad authorities to intervene in the guardianship of bereaved children, especially when both parents die.
Unless a will specifies who should raise your children, there is a possibility that their care may be entrusted to others. For many people, making a will is one of those things that you intend doing someday, but never get around to.
Thinking about your own death is not a pleasant activity, but postponing the writing of a will results in dying intestate, leaving you limited or having no say in the future of your wealth, assets, business or even children.
The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry provides a mechanism for non-Muslims with assets in Dubai to pass on their assets according to their wishes.