The Government of Dubai's vision to increase expatriate talent and investment in the UAE is leading to a modification of various rules and legislation in order to be able to cater to the requirements that this brings. Article 1 (2) of the Personal Status law and the UAE Civil Code allow non-Muslim expats of all nationalities to invoke the law of their home country for inheritance matters. To provide more security to expat residents and investors with assets spread across more than one country, Dubai's new laws streamline the process and allow expats to choose the best option in terms of the inheritance rules applied to their assets and estates. Responding to public demand, there have been amendments to rules of registration that expand the scope of wills to cover assets across the UAE and abroad.

The requirement of registration of wills is because the right of survivorship, in which assets are inherited by a joint owner following the death of an owner, is not recognized in the UAE as per Sharia law. Muslims automatically follow this system of asset distribution. Non-Muslims, however, are now able to register a will for them to be able to choose their heirs and decide the distribution of assets and estates, both in the UAE and abroad.

The consequences of not having a will are that the guardianship of minor children may be decided by UAE Courts as per the law. In addition to this, a family's estate could be assigned to individuals chosen by Courts pursuant to applicable laws. As for financial assets, bank accounts in the UAE, including joint accounts are frozen upon the death of an individual. In addition to this, all dependant visas are cancelled upon the death of the individual, allowing dependants a further maximum stay of one month before being required to leave the country. In this situation, a will would serve as the most efficient medium to obtain assets in a short period of time.

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts previously accepted only wills that contained assets registered in Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai. The new nation-wide attestation for wills by DIFC removes the requirement of multiple wills each for different jurisdictions.

The five types of wills that can be registered for expats are guardianship wills, property wills, free zone company wills, financial asset wills and full wills that covering estates that have more wealth than can be covered by a single type of will.

The three authorities at which wills can be registered in the UAE are –

- Notary Public

- DIFC Wills Services Centre

- Abu Dhabi Judicial Department

Generally, registering a will at the Notary is advised as DIFC wills can be expensive. However, Notary wills incorporate only UAE assets, whereas DIFC wills also incorporate non-UAE assets, making it an ideal choice for expatriates with assets across different jurisdictions.

Registering a will is a relatively simple process. This includes the drafting of the will by a DIFC-approved wills draftsman, making an appointment with the registry to examine the will and if approved, the will being witnessed before a registry officer. Once the will is executed, the testator/beneficiaries must go to Court for the division of assets as per the will.

There are different ways in which wills can be drafted in the UAE. In addition to DIFC-approved wills draftsmen, law firms also provide professional will drafting services, legal opinions and risk assessments that support in the process of drafting and registering wills in the UAE.

The Corporate & Commercial Division at The Legal Group Advocates and Legal Consultants retains the expertise in supporting the process of registration of wills. Our professional services in this regard include collection and review of documents, assessment of the relevant and applicable UAE Laws, drafting and rendering of a Risk and Assessment opinion for wills.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.