Ordeal: Sharmila had to go through an ordeal to put her life back on track after her husband died. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Xpress

Dubai: A 42-year-old Indian widow, who has yet to recover from the untimely death of her husband early this year, has chosen to make her ordeal public in the hope that other expats don’t make the same mistakes.

Former air hostess Sharmila Singh, based in Dubai, told XPRESS last week: “Death should not be a taboo subject. We must prepare for the worst – or else subject our families to what I went through.”

Singh, who even lost custody of her nine-year-old twin boys, said her well-heeled life ended overnight when her businessman husband Sanjay Gupta, 50 died suddenly in March.

“He was hale and hearty and had retired to bed the previous night after dropping off some people to the airport. We couldn’t have dreamt in our wildest dreams that he had just a few more hours to live. I received the biggest shock of my life when I found him motionless the next morning, his dead body crouched against the wall in the bathroom. A post-mortem later revealed that his heart just stopped functioning.”

Worst moments of my life

From calling the ambulance and police to finding the right things to say to her little boys who wanted to know what happened to their father and why they were not being readied for school, Singh said they were the worst moments of her life.

“Seven months on, the nightmare has not ended. I still find myself breaking into a sweat and waking up startled at unearthly hours. I shudder to think what will happen to my boys if I meet the same fate as my husband,” said Singh.

Singh said the first lesson she learnt was that nothing could be taken for granted. “Nothing, not even the fact that your children are your children,” she said, noting that the Sharia law automatically granted custody of her boys to her father-in-law in India when her husband died. “But my father-in-law is 80, ailing and in no condition to take care of two boys. I actually had to go to court and file a case to reclaim their custody. Thankfully, they are back with me now.”

She said much of her insecurity and trauma stemmed from the fact she is not independent. “I flew with a Gulf-based airline for 12 years, but have been a housewife for some time now as my boys need me. One of them has a speech delay. But I regret not having a job and also the fact that my husband and I had not prepared for a situation like this.”

Singh said she is not a signatory to any of her husband’s businesses or bank accounts. “Everything got frozen and I was left in the lurch. I just had Dh500 in cash with me and had to beg and borrow from family and friends to keep the house running. Seven months on, I am still struggling to cope as I am yet to get access to my husband’s assets. Again, by law I am entitled to only a small share. I can’t use any credit or debit card – the only saving grace is we had a credit shield, so I don’t owe the banks any money. Thank God for that or I suppose I would be serving time in jail as well.”

Singh said she had learnt the hard way that it is imperative for a woman to be independent and learn basic skills like driving and building a support system. “My attempts to get a job again have gone in vain so far. I have to beg people to drive me around as I don’t have money for taxis and the Metro doesn’t take me everywhere. I am fortunate that I have some very good friends, but there are many people out there who do not have this support.”

She said much as death is an undesirable thought, every couple must give each other a POA and make a will. “Anything can happen. Life is very difficult emotionally and financially when a spouse dies. Running into red tape is the last thing we need at a time like this.”


Mohammad Marria, legal consultant of Dubai-based firm Just Wills offers some tips to to expat couples

Husband and wife should have separate bank accounts in different banks with an internal power of attorney (POA). For example husband banks with Bank A and wife banks with Bank B. So if husband passes away, Bank A cannot block Bank B, but if both accounts were in Bank A, then Bank A can block both accounts.

If the wife is working, she should get a separate visa because if the husband passes away, all dependent visas are cancelled which means the wife and children will need to leave the country in 30 days. In one case, as the wife was already outside the country, her visa was automatically cancelled. For certain nationalities a visa will need to be obtained in advance before entering the UAE.

Keep life insurance to cover all liabilities such as car loans, personal loans, mortgages and credit cards (credit shield). For self-employed people, make sure life assurance covers all/any business loans. In case of a partnership, get partnership Insurance to cover the business value because if the husband expires, the wife will not be able to run the company. Through partnership insurance, the wife can get cash value of the business.

Complete all nominee/beneficiary forms with your employer and bank and keep a copy of the form with someone.

Complete a list of assets and liabilities i.e. make a list of everything you own — moveable and immoveable properties, all financial assets such as bank accounts including saving accounts, current and fixed deposits and any other accounts, motorcycles, motorcars, art and antiques, jewels, jewellery, furniture and fixtures, debentures, leasehold, bonds, safe and security lockers, stocks, shares, investments, future inheritances, capital, death in service benefits, gratuity payments, reserves, all insurance policies and any shareholding in any companies.

Prepare a general power of attorney (GPA) so that the wife can use this document if the husband is either travelling/mentally incapacitated/missing/in coma. The POA needs to be revalidated every two years.

Get a will drafted. But note that it is effective only if there is a death certificate. Otherwise, it cannot be registered in the court.

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