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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Dubai expands wills system to cut down on disputes, fraud and confusion

Investors living overseas can now register from abroad, protecting their assets after their death

Overseas investors with property in Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah will be able to register their will in the emirates remotely for the first time.

The launch of a virtual registry is intended to give those with property or assets the piece of mind that there could be no dispute as to who would inherit their estate.

Sean Hird, director of the Dubai International Finance Centre's (DIFC) Wills and Probate Registry, said he expects thousands of non-Muslim expatriates to benefit from the service.

The move is the latest in a series of changes governing how expats and their family affairs are handled.

As The National has reported in recent months, systems to deal with divorce, marriage and wills outside of sharia-based family law are being rolled out.

“We are mindful of the fact that there are a lot of residents and maybe ex-residents here and also overseas investors who have maybe flown in and purchased an apartment and then flown out back to their home country," Mr Hird said.

“They are wondering what would happen to their property or financial assets if they pass away and they would have heard of our services but found it is not convenient for them.”

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DIFC has had a specialised system allowing wills to be registered and dealt with outside of the public Dubai Courts system since 2015. About 3,000 people registered their wills.

In May, Abu Dhabi announced that a similar system would be rolled out across the emirate.

And last month Dubai expanded the DIFC system to Dubai Courts for non-Muslim expats.

DIFC's latest move will allow users to fill in an online template that does not require a lawyer and an online portal to register online.

“We wanted to make sure that we are meeting peoples’ needs and the needs of non-residents and overseas investors," Mr Hird said.

The system opened a few weeks ago and at the moment Mr Hird says that there are many dozens going through this process already.

“When we looked at the Dubai Land Department figures for last year you will see thousands of non-residents buying property here in Dubai, and of these thousands there will be many many thousands who are eligible to have their wills registered," he said.

“This reflects the sort of nature of people who want to use our service – that fly in fly out investor- the person say, from Mumbai who comes to Dubai and says 'I want to buy a few apartments as part of my global investment portfolio'.

"They come in, buy these apartments and go back to their home country."

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.

The registry has also signed a partnership with VFS Global. VFS Global is offering protection through free, identity verification services for online will holders.

After completing an on-line will, overseas customers using the ‘Virtual Registry’ service can prevent future challenges to the Will through biometric and identity verification services provided by VFS Global.

The added protection gives customers the certain knowledge that their will cannot be disputed at a later date on the grounds that someone impersonated them at the time of signing.

“When we set up this virtual will registration service, enabling people from overseas to video link in our registry to get their wills registered, we were very conscious of the importance of identity," Mr Hird said.

"That indeed the person that was conferencing with us is indeed the person that purported to be.

"When we looked at cases in the UK and other places overseas where disputes arouse in relation to wills, one of the common causes of disputes was around identity, so we are conscious of that and want to make sure that the service that we provide did genuinely provide the reassurance that people are looking for."