Why non-Muslim expats must leave a will

Tags: Estate Planning,News

10 Jul, 2017

As published in Gulf News
Janice Ponce de Leon, Staff Reporter

Dubai: Death is something we don’t usually think of, but something we should plan for, but rarely do.

Friends Provident International (FPI), a financial institution, on Monday released a guide for non-Muslim expatriates on how they can take care of their families in the event of premature death in the UAE.

Issues like frozen bank accounts when the account-holder dies, leaving a will, and other issues most expatriates are not aware of are addressed to make it easier for families to handle the assets of the deceased.

Having a will for non-Muslim expatriates is important as there is no right of survivorship in the UAE. This means assets are not automatically passed on to the surviving joint-owner upon the death of the other unlike in many countries.

When a non-Muslim expatriate dies, in the absence of a will, the courts will automatically apply Sharia to distribute assets.
If there is a will, inheritance will be governed by the person’s national law under the Civil Transactions Law of the UAE. Note that whether a will is present or not, fixed or immovable assets such as property in the UAE are still subject to Sharia.

Marcus Gent, managing director of Middle East and Africa at FPI, said many expatriates are not aware of the repercussions of a death in the family when living in the UAE.

“While no one likes to think about dying — and indeed no one should spend too much time thinking about it — knowing that you have taken steps to ensure your family is taken care of, even if you’re not around, can be a great source of comfort,” Gent said.

Philip Cernik, chief marketing officer, Middle East and Africa at FPI, said life as an expatriate in the UAE can be fulfilling, but complications can arise when it comes to death, unless plans are made accordingly.

This is where the checklist is helpful as it covers such matters as writing a will, how to register a death and how to arrange for the burial, cremation or repatriation of remains.

But writing a will is not for everyone, said attorney Barney Almazar, a licensed legal consultant and partner at Gulf Law.

“The writing of a will should not be seen as morbid, but as a wake-up call for residents who have substantial assets. So obviously, if you have valuables to pass on, write a will,” Almazar told Gulf News.

Almazar said there are many ways to write a will. A lawyer can draft a will for the testator in accordance with his or her country’s national laws, and the testator can have it notarised in his or her embassy and then attested at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE.

Another option is to have it done at the Notary Public of the Dubai Courts for roughly Dh2,250.

For those who prefer wills drawn up in English, another option is available through duly licensed legal consultants registered with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Wills and Probate Registry.

This may cost between Dh2,500 and Dh5,000 for a single will and from Dh4,000 to Dh10,000 for mirror wills.

With the DIFC will, you no longer need to have everything be translated into Arabic and heard using Sharia. You can simply proceed with your will in English and use the internationally recognised Common Law.