Dubai: Non-Muslim expatriates who own property in the UAE can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to new rules set in place by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) that allow the expats’ assets to be willed to people of their own choosing.
The centre passed a set of new rules which will exempt non-Muslim expatriates who own assets in Dubai from the Sharia stipulations on succession.
With the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, non-Muslims will have the right to choose how their estates are to be distributed after death.
The launch of the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, established by Resolution No 4 of 2014, was announced on Monday.
The registry is the first jurisdiction in the Middle East that allows non-Muslims to register English-language wills under Common Law standards.
Still being finalised
However, as the rules are still being finalised, the allocation of assets upon the death of a non-Muslim expatriate is still dictated by UAE federal laws, which are based on Sharia.
“The registry is governed by a new set of rules that were enacted on April 29,” Michael Hwang, Head of the Dispute Resolution Authority and Chief Justice of the DIFC Courts, said.
“In accordance with the rules, the registry covers estates located in the emirate of Dubai owned by both non-Muslim residents and non-residents The rules have been drafted on the basis of Common Law principles from the Estates Act and Probate Rules of the UK, and legislation of other leading common-law jurisdictions such as Singapore and Malaysia.”
Hwang said the registry creates legal certainty for individuals of various origins, living, investing and conducting business in Dubai, that their assets can be transferred to their loved ones upon death according to their wishes, reflecting their own laws, traditions and cultures.
“Two innovative legal processes have been incorporated into the rules. The first is the requirement to sign the will, at the time of registration, in the presence of a registry officer,” he said, “The second is the confidential and secure storage of the will at the registry. The signed wills will be safely stored in their electronic format for the remainder of the lifetime of the testator at the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry. This significantly minimises the possibility of damage, tampering and loss of the will.”
Michael Barney Almazar, director of the Commercial Department of Gulf Law in the Middle East, the UK and the Philippines, said non-Muslim expatriates in Dubai will feel a newfound confidence with their wills registered in the English language.
“At present, the UAE laws allow non-Muslim expatriates to have their wills according to the provisions of their native country. However, this does not include property,” Almazar said,
“When the new rules are finalised, the registry will allow non-Muslim expatriates to distribute their Dubai-based estates upon death according to their wishes, as based in the registry’s common law principles. The fact that non-Muslims in Dubai will be able to register their wills in English will give them a newfound confidence.”
Mark Beer, Chief Executive and Registrar of DIFC Courts, said the registry’s aim is to provide additional security and certainty for those living and working in Dubai.
“As UAE celebrates 2015 as the year of innovation, the Dispute Resolution Authority’s focus this year is to explore legal innovations that can serve the needs of the community. One such example of this commitment is the development of the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, which is governed by the Wills and Probate Registry Rules enacted recently.”
— With inputs by Babu Dass Augustine, Banking Editor