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Chapter Eight: DIFC Will covering your Estate and Guardianship

The government of Dubai has instituted a DIFC Wills Service in conjunction with the DIFC Courts to give non-Muslims living in the UAE the option to determine the distribution of their assets and to appoint guardians for their minor children, in the event of their death. This service was established by Resolution No. 4 of 2014, which regulates inheritance, Wills, and probate for non-Muslims.

Planning the distribution of your estate after your death is extremely important for expatriates and non-citizens living in the UAE. Any foreigners with assets in the UAE need to protect their family in a jurisdiction that is outside their home country. Expats need to fully understand their rights and obligations under the legal protection systems that operate in the UAE to ensure an efficient resolution to their estate.

Under UAE law, if a foreigner passes away, their assets will be frozen until the relevant court order is raised. If a foreigner fails to register a Will and passes away in the UAE, their estate will be directed by the courts to distribute their assets according to Shariah Law which strictly allows for a distribution of 36.11% to the son; 18.06% to the daughter; 12.5% to the wife; and 16.67% each to the deceased’s father and mother.

However, non-Muslim expatriates can opt out of Shariah Law if they register a Will with the appropriate government body. They can then choose their preferred beneficiaries, and what percentages of the estate will go to which beneficiary.

Registering options to their Will remain limited, however, for Muslims in the UAE due to the mandatory application of Shariah Law to their assets. Muslims are, however, permitted to register guardianship Wills with preferred options for the care of their minor children.

Wills in the UAE are governed by two federal laws, one on Personal Status and one concerning the Civil Code. Recent amendments to the Civil Code handed down in 2020, have provided that if there is no registered Will, the laws of the deceased expat’s home country will apply to the estate’s moveable assets.

However, the distribution of real estate property owned by the deceased is an exception to the amendments to the UAE Civil Code regarding your choice of home country law. In the absence of a registered Will, your real estate assets will still be distributed according to the provisions of Shariah Law. The proceeds from real estate assets can only be distributed to the beneficiaries of your choice if a registered Will is specifying your directions.

Furthermore, if the deceased has minor children (under the age of 21), your preferred legal guardians must be appointed through a registered Will or Shariah Law will be applicable. According to Shariah Law, your wife is not automatically the legal guardian of those minor children.

While a death in the family is a traumatic event, it can be made much more stressful if there is no legally registered Will for a foreigner passing away in the UAE. Unnecessary delays, further expenses and unsatisfactory outcomes which could prevail can be avoided simply with the registering of your Will through the appropriate legal channels.

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