In 2016, Dubai introduced an exceptionally unique solution to entertain basic asset protection needs to Foreign Investors and Expat Residents living in Dubai. They can now be 100% sure their assets are fully protected against any problems that may arise because of the forced heirship system applied by the Sharia Regulations in the United Arab Emirates, or any other conflict between the religious laws of succession between the person and the state where he lives and invests.
Dubai became the first civil law based jurisdiction in the Middle East where non-Muslims can make and register a Will under the internationally recognised Common Law principles within the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
DIFC has three independent bodies enable and support the growth and development of businesses in the Centre:
- Dubai International Financial Centre Authority (DIFCA) – the central entity established to oversee the strategic development, operational management and administration of the Dubai International Financial Centre;
- Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) – the central independent regulator that grants licenses and supervises the activities of all financial and non-financial institutions in DIFC; and
- Dispute Resolution Authority (DRA) – who is responsible for the independent administration and enforcement of justice in DIFC. The DRA incorporates DIFC Courts, DIFC Wills Service (formerly DIFC Wills & Probate Registry) which provides administrative support to the DIFC Courts Wills Registry for Non-Muslims, and the Arbitration Centre.
DIFC Wills Service (WS) is currently providing the first service of its kind in the Middle East. It is a simple opt-in mechanism that gives to non-Muslim expatriates the legal certainty that their Dubai- and Ras Al Khaimah-based assets will be transferred to their loved ones upon death according to their own wishes and not according to the forced heirship system as per the UAE Law that is influenced by the Islamic Sharia regulations.
The rules governing the DIFC Wills Service gives non-Muslim expatriates in Dubai the ability to choose an English-language system that provides familiarity, transparency, trust for inheritance and freedom to dispose of their property upon death as they see fit, and in accordance with the laws of their home country. This Will can be made and registered with the DIFC Wills Service and upon the death of the person it will be recognised with all its terms and the DIFC Courts will confirm and pass the subject to the Dubai Courts for execution only, avoiding any other path.
The Will registered with the DIFC WS can only cover assets in Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). However, with a simple Dubai or RAK structure “Offshore or Free Zone Company that is 100% owned by the testator” holding the non-Dubai/RAK assets, the protection can simply be extended to assets anywhere in the world. It is worth noting that most of the Civil Law based jurisdictions enforce forced heirship laws and not only in Arabic or Islamic Countries. Other European and Non-Muslim countries endorse the forced heirship laws as well, like France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Japan.
Who will be able to benefit from the Registration of the Will?
Non-Muslims, who are over the age of 21 years and have any kind of assets in Dubai and/or Ras Al Khaimah. It is also applicable to parents who may require a guardianship provision to be included in the Will. Whoever has minors in Dubai or RAK can decide on the interim and permanent guardian for his minor children.
What are the steps to register a Will?
The first step is to have the Will drafted. The Will is an important document that should be prepared by qualified and licensed legal practitioners and in compliance with current legislation. All lawyers advising on the drafting and registration of DIFC Wills must be registered with the DIFC Wills Service. So, the draft of the Will must be prepared by one of the approved Wills Draftsmen to the DIFC WS.
Each client can choose a Wills Draftsman from the Register of Wills Draftsmen available on DIFC WS website. All the professionals mentioned there are highly qualified, some of them are also registered with the DIFC Courts and Dubai Legal Affairs Department as legal consultants who are able to provide sound legal advice.
The second step is to contact the DIFC Wills Service Centre for an appointment to review the drafted document and present related personal information and documents for the testator and other key personnel in the Will. The presence of some of the key personnel mentioned in the Will might be necessary as in the case of a Witness, the appointed guardian (if applicable) or a copy of their Witness Statement on behalf of a guardian, by which they confirm to accept their appointment and that they undertake to assume parental responsibility for the children in accordance with WS Rules and DIFC law.
What kind of information is needed from a testator to draft his Will?
The Legal Consultant/Wills Draftsman have to meet together with the testator to see exactly what his perspective is and how he would like to divide his Dubai assets. In parallel to this, the testator should mention any other Will ever drafted before and where is it registered to make sure there would be no conflict between the previous and the new Will.
To draft the Will, the Wills Draftsman needs the following:
- the personal details of the testator (supported by his passport copy);
- his family tree (family members and dependents);
- his declaration of Religion;
- his mental capacity;
- if he has another Will concerning the Dubai/RAK assets (if yes – where it was registered and if he wants to revoke that Will or not);
- details of Real Estate Properties in Dubai/RAK (supported by the Title Deeds copies);
- details of his Bank Accounts;
- details of the other assets: cars, boats, shares in companies, etc.
Once the Wills Draftsman knows all details about the testator and his assets, he would need details about the beneficiaries of the testator and the way how they will inherit.
If the testator has minor child/children – being lineal descendants or adopted (in the UAE minor is considered a person under the age of 21), the Wills Draftsman would need all of their details.
If the minors are living with the testator in Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah, he would need to appoint a Guardian for them. The Testator can choose more than one Guardian, but in this situation, it is mandatory to mention if they will act jointly or separately or each for a specific task.
If the appointed Guardians live outside Dubai, the testator can appoint an interim guardian who will act until the permanent guardian arrives in Dubai/RAK.
The Guardian is the one who cares for all of the minor’s affairs including: guarding, protecting, raising, educating, and supervising; directing their life, raising them in the best standards. This includes representation of the minor in front of all Dubai and UAE authorities and the right of signature on behalf of the minor.
The Guardian also safeguard the minor’s financial interests, managing and investing the inheritance of and all other assets belonging to the minor until the minor reaches the age of majority under the UAE laws. This may include guardianship of the minor’s property, including the care for all matters relating to the minor’s property, its preservation, management and investment.
The Guardian shall have the right, with the Court’s permission, to disburse from the minor’s money to the extent granted to him through the Will by the testator. Guardianship shall also include custodianship.
The testator also needs to appoint an Executor who will be responsible for administering the estates and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries listed in the Will. The Wills Draftsman would need all details about the Executor, supported by his passport copy and Emirates ID copy. The testator can appoint one or more executors. If he chooses to appoint more executors, it will be mandatory to mention if they will act jointly or separately.
Can the Will be changed or updated after its registration with the DIFC Wills Service?
Yes. The Testator can change or update the Will. For example, in case of:
- the birth or adoption of a child (in Dubai or abroad) whom the testator wishes to include in his Will as a beneficiary;
- adding/changing guardian for the minors;
- changing the beneficiaries;
- significant changes in the financial status impacting one’s assets in Dubai/RAK;
- changes of laws in the testator’s home country, impacting the testator’s assets in Dubai/RAK;
- death or incapacity of a named executor or trustee;
- changes in assets in Dubai/RAK (e.g. the testator sold an asset, or he gifted it to someone else, etc.).
Also, changing the address or the personal details (contacts) of existing parties to the Will, namely of executors or guardians, do not necessitate a modification to the Will; they are dealt with, as an administrative update to the existing case file, but such changes should be communicated to the Wills Service as soon as they occur, allowing the DIFC Courts Wills Registry to update the file.
How about the cost of registration?
The administrative fees, which a testator needs to pay, on the registration day of his Will or his Guardianship, to the DIFC Wills Service, are as follows:
- Registration of a DIFC Will before a registry officer – AED 10,000 (approx. USD 2,720) + 5% VAT;
- Registration of a DIFC Guardianship Will before a registry officer – AED 5,000 (approx. USD 1,360) + 5% VAT.
If the testator prefers to register a Will or a Guardianship, together with his/her wife/husband, the administrative fees will be the following:
- Simultaneous registration of two Mirror DIFC Wills (by spouses) before a registry officer – AED 15,000 (approx. USD 4,080) + 5% VAT;
- Simultaneous registration of two Mirror DIFC Guardianship Wills (by spouses) before a registry officer –AED 7,500 (approx. USD 2,040) + 5% VAT.
If the testator prefers to withdraw his Will, the DIFC Wills Service will not charge any fee for this.
The administrative fees are payable in United Arab Emirates Dirhams (AED) and are subject to Value Added Tax (5%). The fees can be paid online in whole when booking the appointment at the DIFC Wills Service, or only the booking deposit may be paid online, and the remaining fees can be paid at the time of registration by credit card, cash or cheque. Booking deposit fees are non-refundable.
We advise and recommend everyone with assets and minors in Dubai and/or Ras Al Khaimah to register a DIFC Will. It is the best way to have peace of mind about the future of their loved ones and about the distribution of their assets based on their Will, instead of a forced regulation. It can be very difficult for their families to go on during the time of sorrow with all the alternative routes to get hold of the succession assets and to decide who will take care of their children in the short term and later on for the long term.
Without a Will, it is more likely that the Dubai Courts – at least at the court of the first instance – will apply general provisions of the forced heirship regulations as per the Sharia rules to everyone in case of death as long as the assets are in Dubai. It is worth noting that the Dubai Courts would not recognize Wills registered or notarized outside of the United Arab Emirates.
Under its Sharia-based legislative framework, inheritance in the UAE is subject to a forced heirship regime, which means that the distribution of the deceased person’s assets is fixed to certain members of the wider family. Families have to navigate complicated and time-consuming procedures to transfer their loved ones’ assets after death. Other than this uncertainty they will face the risk of lengthy and costly probate battles.