Expats, prepare a will to protect family’s financial health

Tags: News

22 Jan, 2017

As published in Khaleej Times
By Cynthia Trench

Even if you have a will from your country of birth, it may not be honoured in Dubai.
(Getty Images)

Even if you have a will from the country of your birth, it is not necessarily a given that it will be honoured

Most of us make a New Year resolution that we’re perhaps already struggling to keep in the early days of 2017. Let’s face it, our New Year resolutions usually revolve around our health. It could be getting fitter and achieving the work/life balance, losing weight or giving up some naughty little vice like smoking. All entirely sensible goals and very likely to improve our lives, or even prolong it.

However, what happens if a life does end, and not your life. Take a deep breath and consider the impact on your health if a loved one dies and to top it all, you find out that the home that you’re living in no longer belongs to you. It’s a shudderingly awful thought and something that none of us like to think about.

Many expatriates in the UAE have large assets such as homes, cars and boats. It might come as a surprise, but if a valid will is not in place, this could cause significant distress. Nobody likes to confront such situations, but considering your financial health and that of your family could be the best New Year resolution you could stick to this year. It might not be immediately obvious, but it is guaranteed to have a significant effect on your overall well-being.

As an expatriate in the UAE, it’s important to be aware that even if you have a will from the country of your birth, it is not necessarily a given that it will be honoured. What’s more, translating it into Arabic will not make a single jot of difference, whatever anybody tells you.

The simple fact is, if a spouse passes away without a valid DIFC will, Shariah law will come into play. The UAE does not practise ‘right of survivorship’ (property passing on to a surviving joint owner upon death of the other, as is the case in common jurisdictions) and making the final decision on the ownership of your property will come down to the local courts who will inevitably stick to the precepts of Shariah law.

How Shariah law works
So, what happens in Shariah law? The property is divided up. A surviving wife’s children qualify for one eighth of her deceased husband’s estate and a surviving husband qualifies for one quarter of his deceased wife’s estate. The rest of the estate is divided among other family members such as parents and children. The parents receive 1/6th and once everything has been divided, the children receive the rest, with sons receiving a greater proportion than daughters. The above formula is subject to who remains in the deceased’s immediate blood-related family at the time of the person’s demise.

Make this year the year that you put personal affairs in order. I have seen several unfortunate cases where the appropriate will is not in place. What is more, all joint assets are frozen until the inheritance is decided by the the Personal Status Courts of First Instance. It can be a time-consuming and costly process. There is only one legal route for non-Muslim expatriates in Dubai which ensures that their assets are passed on just as they wish.

Currently, the only authorised place for expats to lodge their wills in respect of their Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah assets and ensure that they are honoured is the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (DIFC WPR). I was the first to register a will at DIFC WPR.

The DIFC WPR is a first in the region for non-Muslim expatriates and it provides clarity that gives peace of mind that your chosen beneficiaries will receive your estate.

Don’t be duped into thinking your will is valid unless it goes down the appropriate DIFC route. Avoid the horror story of having to spend over Dh100,000 in an appeal process by making sure that your affairs are in order.

So, as we enter the New Year avoiding the follies and foibles of life, perhaps the best New Year resolution we can possibly make is to plan ahead, take care of our financial health and avoid any heartache for those we love.

The writer is principal of UAE law firm Trench & Associates. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy.