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DIFC Wills

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Wills have been available since 2015. They enable non-Muslim expatriates the ability to distribute their assets within the Emirates of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah according to their wishes. As of 30th June 2019, DIFC Courts announced they will accept DIFC Wills covering assets outside of these jurisdictions with the caveat that legal advice if received on the validity of these arrangements.

What Type of DIFC Wills Exist?

There are currently 5 different DIFC Wills available:

Business Owners Will provides owners of onshore and offshore companies with the ability to gift their interest in these businesses to the person/people of their choice. This can be particularly important where the business has employees and on-going commitments to suppliers and customers.

Real Estate Will provides non-Muslim owners of property in the Emirates of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah with the ability to gift their interest in any real estate they own according to their wishes. This means the distribution does not have to be bound by local law or Sharia principles.

Financial Assets Will is the latest addition to the DIFC suite of Wills. In UAE, joint accounts are frozen on the death of one party. There is no automatic right of access to the money by the survivor. The DIFC Financial Assets WIlln provides beneficiaries with faster access to bank accounts etc held in UAE.

Guardianship Will provides direction to the courts on who the deceased wanted to look after any children they had parental responsibility for on their death. This can also include arrangements for temporary carers whilst the legal guardians travel to Dubai.

Full Will covers all of the above Wills.

What are the advantages of DIFC Wills?

DIFC is a common-law jurisdiction. The Wills provide non-Muslim expatriates with greater certainty of what will happen to their assets and children in the event of their death. English is the language of the court, rather than Arabic which applies to the Dubai Courts. The probate process is generally quicker and therefore cheaper in most cases.

What are the disadvantages of DIFC Wills?

The arrival of DIFC Wills is a positive development for non-Muslims.

The aspect which is most widely reported is the cost of registration. Costs of up to AED15,000 plus VAT in DIFC registration fees on top of the services of a draftsman has made these Will prohibitively expensive for many expatriates.

Additionally, the exclusion of Muslims, even where they are not UAE nationals, from DIFC Wills has limited the effect of this initiative.

On 30th June 2019, DIFC announced that assets covered within a DIFC Will would no longer be restricted to Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. This enables assets within the wider UAE and potentially global assets to be included within a DIFC Will. However, DIFC recommends seeking independent legal advice before using this option.

On the same day, DIFC Wills Service announced they would no longer store physical copies of Wills. The electronic copy will be treated as the original with the hard copy handed to the owner of the Will or shredded.

How Do I Write A DIFC Will?

DIFC Wills can be prepared directly with the DIFC Wills Service, although no advice is given.

Alternatively, you can consult one of the list of draftsmen on the DIFC website.

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WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT HAVE A WILL?

Why pay for a Will, if you do not need it? In some circumstances, there is no need for a Will. However, for expatriates living in the UAE, this is very rare.

Where no valid Will exists or no Will can be found the deceased will be treated as having died ‘intestate’. The treatment of the deceased’s assets depends on factors such as where the assets are located.

For assets in the UK, married couples with children have a right to all of their deceased spouse’s personal effects as well as the first £250,000 of the estate plus half of any amount over £250,000. The balance is distributed evenly between the children. This can cause problems. For instance, where the main asset is the matrimonial home and one of the children wants their inheritance causing the property to be sold.

Where there are assets in UAE and there is no Will the situation is complex, local law requires a Sharia scholar to be appointed. This person will oversee the distribution of the assets within UAE in accordance with Sharia principles. The distribution will depend on the relatives of the deceased and others who may make a legitimate claim on the assets such as lenders.

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