Wills and Estates for Non-Muslims Expatriates

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The law is allowing non-Muslims to prepare their wills according to their wishes and pursuant to their national inheritance laws. It also regulates and simplifies the enforcement/execution of wills in Dubai. Below is an overview of the main features of the law.

The long-awaited law no. 15/2017 concerning management of estates of non-Muslims and execution of their wills (‘law’) seeks to create a clear legal framework that regulates wills and estates for non-Muslims expatriates in Dubai. The law is allowing non-Muslims to prepare their wills according to their wishes and pursuant to their national inheritance laws. It also regulates and simplifies the enforcement/execution of wills in Dubai. Below is an overview of the main features of the law.

Application of the Law

The law shall apply to all wills and estates of non-Muslims in Dubai, including Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). The national inheritance law of the person making the will (‘testator’) may be applicable unless it is contrary to the public order or morals in the UAE. However, the laws of the Emirate of Dubai shall apply if the will or the estate is related to a property located in Dubai.

Will Registry

A “Non-Muslims Wills and Probate Registry” shall be established at both Dubai and DIFC Courts for the registration of wills for non-Muslims. The law has given the presidents of both Courts the right to define the form of the registry, determine the required data and the registration procedures.

Registration Conditions

Certain conditions must be met in order for the will to be registered in the registry. The will maker (‘testator’) must be a non-Muslim of at least 21 years of age, of sound mind, and has not been deprived from disposing his/her assets nor in a state of bankruptcy. The will must be signed by the testator, unless he/she is unable to do so (i.e. being illiterate), he/she may appoint another person for signing. The signature of the will must be in the presence of two witnesses. Also, an executor of the will must be appointed/mentioned in the will at the time of registration.

Validity Conditions

For the validity of will, the law stipulates certain conditions as to the testator and the assets mentioned in the will which must be defined (or able to be defined), existent, owned by the testator, and can be conveyed to the beneficiaries at the time of death. In the event the will contains a condition which is contrary to public order of morals, such condition shall be considered null and void but without affecting the remaining conditions of the will.

Multiple Wills

In the event of having multiple wills, the registered will shall prevail. In the event of having more than one registered will, the first registered one shall prevail. However, if none of the wills are registered, they will all be deemed as one, but in case of conflict, the Court will decide on the will which will be applicable.

Rights and Liabilities

All rights and liabilities of the testator shall be transferred to the beneficiaries along the disposed assets. If any of beneficiaries refuses to pay off any debt owed to third party, he/she will be deprived from all rights under the will.

Will Executor

The law stipulates the appointment of an executor, either in the will itself or through a separate document. The executor must be of 21 years of age, of sound mind, has no interest in the estate of the deceased nor been convicted in a moral crime, nor he is in state of bankruptcy. Practically, trustworthiness and dependability are considered the most important when selecting who to appoint as executor.

The executor plays a significant role in ensuring that the will is executed according to the specific wishes of the testator after he/she dies. Under the supervision of the competent court, he will collect the assets of the estate, pay outstanding debts and distribute the assets. If required, he will coordinate with governmental and non-governmental authorities for the execution of the will. He would represent the beneficiaries in all legal cases filed against them in relation to the estate or the will.

The executor shall carry on his duties in good faith, maintain proper records of the estate, not to use the money of the estate for his benefit or facilitate the use of the money by third parties, and not to disclose any information or data concerning the will or the estate.

The executor may use the services of a lawyer or an expert to assist him in the execution and administration of the estate. All unpaid debts and death expenses shall be paid first before conveying the assets to the beneficiaries.

Dismissal of the Executor

Upon the request of the executor or any of the beneficiaries, the Court may, for valid reasons, order the dismissal of the executor. In the event of his dismissal, the executor must submit to the Court, within 60 days from the date of his notification of the dismissal order, a detailed report of all the works he performed during his appointment.

The law has been issued on 18 October 2017, and has entered into effect as of its date of publication on 7th Nov 2017.

Indeed, non-Muslims expatriates living in Dubai for a long period and have accumulated long-term assets including properties, are given clear affirmation of their rights to execute legal wills that dispose of their assets and properties according to their last wishes. Also, it is widely expected that the new law will create significant confidence in Dubai’s investment landscape.

For more information about this article, please contact Ashraf El Motei at a.motei@motei.com