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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Dubai creates enhanced legal framework for allowing non-Muslims to register wills

Move will mean sharia-based process will be not be applied to property and assets in the event of death

Until now, the relatives of a resident who died having failed to register their will with DIFC would likely see sharia applied.
Until now, the relatives of a resident who died having failed to register their will with DIFC would likely see sharia applied.

Dubai has created an expanded legal mechanism to allow non-Muslim expatriates to dictate where they want their assets to go in the event of their death.

The change would ensure that anyone registering with the new system would know there could be no dispute or confusion over a deceased's property, belongings or custody of children.

At present, non-Muslims have the option to register with the Dubai International Financial Centre’s wills and probate registry, which is linked to the government, but not in Dubai's state-run civil courts.

On Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, announced a broader system that will allow expats to register at Dubai Courts, in addition to DIFC.

Until now, the relatives of a resident who died having failed to register their will with DIFC would likely see sharia applied.

The court would likely immediately freeze the assets – including the end of service gratuity – of the deceased to ensure that all the heirs are contacted before the estate is distributed.

The process can be lengthy unexpected and unfamiliar for many residents.

Ali Musabbeh, a Dubai lawyer, said the new process would "significantly" speed up the handling of wills and inheritance cases involving non-Muslims at Dubai Courts.

In May, Sean Hird, the registry’s director, told The National that only about 2,500 wills had been registered since its inception in 2015, meaning the vast majority of residents have not made such provisions.

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The new system announced on Tuesday states that non-Muslims who registered their wills and probates before now at DIFC courts will remain valid. The law will come into place once it is published in the government's Official Gazette.

In May, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department announced the establishment of a registry that allows non-Muslims to register wills under the same rules stated above. Prior to that, only sharia was applied.

Yousef Al Ibri, undersecretary at the judicial department, at the time said the move was recognition of the “realistic needs” of all sectors of society in Abu Dhabi.

He said it laid down the legislative framework to protect the rights and freedoms of people of different faiths.

These rights would now be protected under the state’s constitution, “which affirms the enjoyment of foreigners of rights and freedoms prescribed in international charters”, he said.

The same month, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, announced the establishment of a court in Abu Dhabi to deal with non-Muslim family law.

And in July it was also announced that Christian couples would soon be able to marry and potentially divorce through churches of their own faith, rather than at Abu Dhabi Courts, with other faiths to follow in the near future.