On 1st May 2015, the Dubai Government provided for a new service for non-Muslim expats with assets in Dubai. Under the new service, qualifying individuals may register their Will with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Wills and Probate Registry. In the event of their death, the DIFC Courts will then have jurisdiction over the dispersal of the assets of the deceased.
For those who do not have a Will registered with DIFC, they will be subject to the old regime in which local courts attempt to match the principals of Shariah with the wishes of the non-Muslim expatriate – a complex, lengthy and expensive process in most cases.
Before the introduction of the DIFC option, moveable assets such as cash and cars were often dealt with in accordance with the Will (provided the deceased had one), however immoveable assets (real estate) were usually subject to Shariah law. Under the DIFC Will, real estate is included providing additional certainty that the deceased’s wishes will be followed.
With many young families in Dubai, a further welcome development is the rules on guardianship of minors. Often when speaking to parents, they worry that their wishes for their children may not be carried out at a very traumatic time, and anecdotes which may or may not have been apocryphal do not set their minds at ease. The DIFC option now provides greater certainty for parents should the worst happen to them allowing them to provide detailed instructions to the DIFC court on what they wish to have happen to their children.
I was initially shocked at the cost of registering a Will with DIFC Wills and Probate registry (US$2,800); however, setting aside the burden of worry about young children being fostered in care for extended periods while legal battles are resolved. For those with an average property in Dubai (cost of about AED2.5 million) the Will represents about 0.4% of the value of the assets you are trying to protect, much less than the stamp duty you paid and probably less than the legal fees you or your beneficiaries would pay to resolve any disputes with the distribution of assets after completing the Dubai court ruling.