Wills In The UAE: What Expats Should Know

United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a popular destination for expatriates worldwide, drawn to its vibrant economy and thriving business opportunities. For ex-pats residing in the UAE, understanding the local laws regarding wills is essential to ensure their assets are protected and distributed according to their wishes. This article overviews UAE will for expats and highlights key considerations for ex-pats.

Application of sharia law:

One of the critical aspects of wills in the UAE is the application of Sharia law. Sharia law governs the distribution of assets without a valid will. It follows a predetermined set of rules that may not align with an individual’s wishes or cultural practices. Expats, regardless of their religion, are subject to Sharia law unless they have a registered will that explicitly states their desired distribution of assets.

Distinguishing onshore and offshore jurisdictions:

UAE has onshore and offshore jurisdictions, each with its legal framework for wills. Onshore wills are subject to the application of Sharia law unless a non-Muslim ex-pat has a will registered under the UAE’s Personal Status Law. Offshore jurisdictions, such as the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), offer non-Muslim ex-pats the option to register wills under common law principles, providing greater flexibility and certainty in estate planning.

Choice of jurisdiction:

Expats should carefully consider the jurisdiction under which they register their wills. Onshore wills may be suitable for Muslim ex-pats who wish to follow Sharia law, while non-Muslim ex-pats often prefer the DIFC or ADGM jurisdictions to ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes. It is essential to consult with legal professionals specializing in UAE wills to determine the most appropriate jurisdiction for individual circumstances.

Drafting a will:

To ensure the validity of a will in the UAE, it must meet certain requirements. The will must be in writing, signed by the testator (the person making the will) in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries and registered with the relevant authorities, depending on the chosen jurisdiction. Seeking legal advice from experienced professionals is crucial to ensure compliance with these requirements and to draft a comprehensive and legally binding will.

Guardianship of minor children:

Expats with minor children should consider appointing a guardian for their children in their wills. This allows them to designate a trusted individual who will assume responsibility for the care and upbringing of their children in the event of their untimely demise. This provision provides peace of mind and protects the children’s welfare and best interests.