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A will is a document which explains the manner in which a person’s property will be distributed after his/her death. Deceased’s family members, friends, organisations, and public institutions are the usual beneficiaries of wills. Assets transferred by means of wills may include, for example, money, jewellery, real estate, vehicles, and shares in companies.

Expatriates residing in Dubai can use wills to arrange the post-mortem distribution of their property. Assets that are not covered by a will are distributed in accordance with Sharia law.

Below, we examine the consequences of leaving a will registered with the Wills and Probate Registry established by the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), a will registered with a court in Dubai, and a will notarized by a public notary. We will also discuss the consequences of leaving no will.

A will registered with the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry

The DFIC Wills and Probate Registry was established in 2015. A will registered by a non-Muslim expatriate with the Registry ensures that Sharia law principles will not be applied to the expatriate’s estate located in Dubai. Thus, the Registry assists expatriates’ families in avoiding lengthy and costly proceedings conducted in accordance with Sharia law. The Registry also closely cooperates with the Dubai Land Department to ensure a smooth probate process.

To register a will with the Registry, the testator must officially reside in Dubai.

A will registered with the Registry can be used for appointing temporary and permanent guardians to children, irrespective of whether the testator owns any property in Dubai.

A will registered with a court in Dubai

Testators owning property in Dubai and/or other emirates (e.g., Abu Dhabi) can register their wills with a court in Dubai. Prior to the establishment of the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry in 2015, all wills created by expatriates in Dubai had to be registered in such a way.

At present, the testator is allowed to combine different wills. For example, a DIFC will can be registered for appointing children’s guardians and distributing testator’s property located in Dubai, whereas a will registered with a court in Dubai can arrange the distribution of property located in other emirates. A will in testator’s country of citizenship regulates the inheritance of the property located in that country.

A will notarized by a public notary

Expatriates living in other emirates and not owning any estate in Dubai may create a will and notarize it with a notary public in the UAE. Such a document must comply with the laws of testator’s home country. However, taking into account that the UAE notary public may not have knowledge about the laws of testator’s home country, expatriates are advised to use the services of a legal adviser familiar with the laws governing their wills.

Leaving no will

If no will is left by the deceased, his/her assets in Dubai will be distributed in accordance with Sharia law. For example, according to Sharia law, a surviving wife who has children may qualify only for 1/8 of the estate of the deceased. Irrespective of whether the deceased has left a will, Sharia law may not apply to the estate located outside the UAE.

Theoretically, the judge in Dubai has the right to apply the law of the deceased’s country of citizenship. However, it is rarely done because judges are usually not familiar with foreign laws.

The courts in Dubai are responsible for appointing guardians and freezing deceased’s assets until the distribution of the inheritance is completed. Parents willing to arrange the guardianship of their children after death can use wills to do so. It is worth mentioning that Sharia law principles do not grant guardianship of children to a mother after father’s death automatically.