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Expat Wills

Lawyers: Write a will or your family will suffer

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Writing a will protects your loved ones should the worst happen


Dubai: Writing a will not only protects the distribution of your UAE assets in case of your death, but it also protects your children as their custody will be given to the relative of your choice, lawyers said.

The right of survivorship, where property is passed on to the surviving joint owner upon the death of the other, does not apply in the UAE. This creates conflicts for non-Muslims since courts automatically apply Sharia in the absence of a will.

“A widow asked for our firm’s assistance regarding the transfer of her husband’s assets under her name. She was still grieving when she came to the office with her two minor kids as her husband died just several days ago,” Barney Almazar, a licensed UAE legal consultant and partner at Gulf Law, told Gulf News.

“Her husband was only 42 and left no will. Their two apartments are under his name. His bank accounts are frozen and she does not have enough cash on hand to support their daily needs.”

To make matters worse, the widow’s in-laws contested her inheritance and accused her of causing her husband’s sudden death. Since she and her kids are under the visa sponsorship of her husband, they would need a new sponsor or leave the country in less than a month.

“This unfortunate situation could have been prevented if a valid will had been executed,” Almazar said.

For child custody issues, the next of kin is the default guardian of minor children. But in a country dominated by expatriates, having relatives close by is not a luxury everyone enjoys.

“If you want a specific family member or a non-relative to look after your children, you will have to specifically designate such a person in your will. Otherwise, the court might step in and commit your children to social welfare or hand custody over to a relative you may not approve of,” Almazar said.

But it’s not just your children you should protect should the worst happen. Your assets need to be in good hands, too.

Cynthia Trench, principal of Trench & Associates, said should a husband or a wife die, the joint assets, such as properties and bank accounts, will be frozen regardless of the part ownership of the surviving spouse.

“Presently, the majority of the judges apply Sharia and ignore any foreign wills. This means you would have to appeal to the Court of Appeal and, provided you have all the correct documentation, it could take you 12 to 24 months and could cost over Dh50,000 in advocate fees, notarisation and legalisation of the foreign documents, translation costs and foreign lawyers’ fees,” Trench said.

It is, therefore, wise to avoid these uncertainties through a Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC)-registered Will, Trench said.

The DIFC Will and Probate Registry (WPR), established in 2014, is a registry based inside the DIFC that allows non-Muslims to register their wills for their movable possessions (cars, jewellery, shared stocks, cash and bonds) and immovable assets (real estate) in Dubai. Since the registry was launched for the public in May last year, a total of 650 wills had been registered until December 2015, based on figures the registry released in January.

Of the 650 registered wills, more than half or 55 per cent of registrants are Europeans, 27 per cent are Indians and the rest are expatriates from across the world, including Asia, Africa and the Americas. Seven out of 10 wills were executed by both husbands and wives.

Another way to do it is the “traditional way” by having a trusted lawyer who knows your country’s and the UAE’s laws to draft a will, get it notarised, you can even do it at your embassy or consulate here, have it translated into Arabic and then have it attested by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

You are securing your family’s future whichever means you prefer. Not having a will means you are giving the courts unbridled discretion in distributing your hard-earned assets that could leave your family in limbo while waiting for the court’s final decision, Almazar said.

“If you’ve been avoiding writing your will simply because it seems daunting, you are definitely making a big mistake. Life is not certain, especially in a foreign land. You leave your home country and work hard to provide for your family. You plan for your children’s future. By making a will, you can distribute your assets according to the needs of your loved ones,” Almazar said.

Publish date: 26/04/16 18:15
Source: Gulf News, Published on 26 April 2016

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