Updated: Aug 30
Non-Muslim Wills – FAQs
1. What is a will?
A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets (movable & immovable property) and the care of any minor children. If you die without a will, your wishes may not be carried out. Further, your Estate may be subject to distribution in accordance with foreign law (i.e. the UAE Law of Inheritance, being Sharia' h law), your heirs may need to spend additional time, money, and emotional energy to settle your affairs after you're gone. Also, the guardianship and custody of minor children may be awarded to persons, other than a surviving parent.
2. Who can register a Non-Muslim Probate will in the UAE?
In order to register a Will at a Designated Probate Registry Office, the requirements are below.
1.) You are not Muslim and have never been a Muslim.
2.) You are over 21 years of age.
3.) You own assets or business in the UAE.
4.) You have minor children residing with you in the UAE.
(Note: You do not need to be a Resident of the UAE)
3. What is a non-Muslim will in the context of the UAE?
You may already have a will made in your home country for your assets there or elsewhere in the world, but such country’s laws of inheritance may not apply to your movable and immovable assets in the UAE, unless you have a registered will recognized as per UAE law. Non-Muslim UAE expats residing in the UAE or individuals otherwise having assets in the UAE must either register their Wills with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, the DIFC Wills Service Centre, The RAK ICC Wills Service Centre or the UAE Courts’ Notary Public. However, please note that the UAE Courts’ Notary Public does not provide a Probate wills registry entry hence not advisable.
4. What can happen to my estate if I do not have a will in the UAE, as a Non-Muslim Expat or individuals having assets in the UAE?
Whilst the UAE is an expat-friendly country and treats foreigners’ assets sympathetically in the event of death, complications may arise if someone dies without having left a valid will.
1.) All bank accounts will be frozen immediately for existing or contingent liabilities (regardless of it being a joint or individual accounts).
2.) Dependent visas will be cancelled, and dependents will be required to exit the UAE within a specified period or secure tourist visas.
3.) Re-appropriation of assets may be unfavorable and may not stay within your immediate family.
4.) Lower share to the spouses – i.e. The wife of a deceased husband is given 1/8th of the estate left by him. The husband of the deceased is only entitled to 1/4th of the shares in his wife’s estate.
5.) Custody of minor children may go to someone whom you don’t prefer, or the local government might have to intervene. No guardianship is automatically given to the wife of a deceased husband and mother of a child / children born of the marriage. In the event of death of the husband, the guardianship of the children does not automatically pass on to the wife and she has no legal entitlement to the same unless a will is made.
6.) A court case appealing the automatic appropriation can take as long as five years and result in the incurrence of huge legal costs.
7.) The bulk of your estate might go to extended family, as per Sharia' h law
8.) There is no automatic distribution of joint assets. When an asset is held by two people jointly, in the event of death of one, the estate does not pass on to the other owner, instead to the legal heirs of the deceased, as per Sharia' h Law provisions set out in the Personal Status Law, unless the beneficiaries request the personal status courts, in the first hearing of the case opened in relation to the estate of the deceased, to apply the personal status law of the deceased relating to succession of the estate left by him.
9.) Life insurance claims may go into covering your liabilities or be counted as part of property to be appropriated by the Courts
5. What is the effect of drafting a Non-Muslim “will”, but failing to register or Notarize same, as is required by law in the UAE?
This document will merely considered to be the deceased’s testatory wishes and will not have the effect of a valid will. This written document can be presented before a Probate Court on application for it to be declared as a valid will, however, this is very risky, unlikely to be successful and costly to whomever brings such application and matter before a Court. It is more likely that the deceased person’s estate will devolve in terms of Sharia' h law and that the deceased will be determined to have died without leaving a will – as being intestate.
6. Top 10 reasons as to why we consider a will to be necessary in the UAE?
1) You decide how your estate will be distributed. A will is a legally binding document that lets you determine how you would like your estate to be handled upon your death. If you die without a will, there is no guarantee that your intended desires will be carried out. Having a will helps minimize any family fights, or legal disputes about your estate that may arise, and determines the “who, what, and when” of your estate.
2) You decide who will take care of your minor children. A will allows you to make an informed decision about who should take care of your minor children. Having a will allows you to appoint the person you want to raise your children or, better, make sure it is not someone you do not want to raise your children. In absence of a will, the presiding law (i.e. the UAE Law of Inheritance, being Sharia' h law), or a court with appropriate jurisdiction will choose among family members or a state-appointed guardian.
3) To avoid a lengthy probate process. Contrary to common belief, all estates must go through the probate process, with or without a will. Having a will, however, speeds up the probate process and informs the court how you’d like your estate divided. Probate courts serve the purpose of “administering your estate”, and when you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”), the court will decide how to divide estate without your input, which can also cause long, unnecessary delays.
4) No Estate taxes. No Estate taxes are levied on inheritances.
5) You decide who will wind up the affairs of your Estate. Executors are formally appointed and act as Trustees to make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying off bills, cancelling your credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business establishments of your passing. Because executors play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organized (which may or may not always be a family member).
6) You can disinherit individuals who would otherwise stand to inherit. Most people do not realize they can disinherit individuals out of their will. Yes, you may wish to disinherit individuals who may otherwise inherit your estate if you die without a will. Because wills specifically outline how you would like your estate distributed, absent of a will your estate may end up on the wrong hands or in the hands of someone you did not intend (such as an ex-spouse with whom you had a bitter divorce).
7) Make gifts and donations via specific bequests. The ability to make gifts is a good reason to have a will because it allows your legacy to live on and reflect your personal values and interests. Such gifts or donations too are taxed at 0% within the UAE.
8) Avoid greater legal challenges. If you die without a will, part or all of your estate may pass to someone you did not intend. For example, one case involved the estate of a deceased son who was awarded over $1 million from a wrongful death lawsuit. When the son died, the son’s father – who had not been a part of his son's life for over 32 years – stood to inherit the entire estate, leaving close relatives and siblings out of the picture!
9) Because you can change your mind if your life circumstances change. A good reason for having a will is that you can change it at any time while you’re still alive. Life changes such as births, deaths, and divorce, can create situations where changing your will are necessary.
10) Because tomorrow is not promised. Procrastination and the unwillingness to accept, or denial of the reality of death as part of life are common reasons for not having a will. Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on families during an already emotional time, it may be wise to meet with an estate planning lawyer to help you draw up and register a basic will at a minimum. This will provide peace of mind for you and for those who survive you.
7. Can a will be changed?
Yes. A will is a living document. At any time, a will can be amended, or even revoked (withdrawn) and also be replaced with a new will. Life changes can create situations where changing your will is necessary: i.e. your subsequent marriage or divorce (in the UAE or abroad), the birth or adoption of a child (in the UAE, or abroad), whom you wish to include / exclude in your will, your wish to add or change the appointment of guardians in your will, in circumstances where you have recently experienced a significant change in financial status which impacts those assets that you hold in the UAE, where you have a desire to change your beneficiaries of your will, death or incapacity of an executor named in your will, or a significant change in laws in your home country, or the UAE, which impacts those assets that you hold in the UAE.
8. Should a Non-Muslim will be notarized or registered in the UAE?
It is mandatory for a will to be registered on a designated Wills Probate Registry within the UAE or any of the Free Zones which provide such Registry services, or at least to be Notarized by a Notary Public of the UAE Courts.
Please be advised that is strongly recommended that a will be registered on a designated Wills Probate Registry within the UAE, so as for the will to stand as a probate or “proven” will. If this is not done, it will necessitate a notarized will to be brought on Application before the UAE Courts to have it declared and Ordered as a Probate will, which is a costly and time-consuming procedure – all whilst your Estate will be frozen.
9. What steps are advisable in preparation of the execution of a will?
1.) Inform your immediate family (i.e. spouse or parents) or an Attorney managing your Estate and Succession affairs about your assets and liabilities from time to time.
2.) Have a complete list of all your assets, including movable assets, property, life insurance, employee benefits, so as to have an idea of your net worth.
3.) Always properly complete the beneficiary details on your employee benefits form and any insurance policy forms
4.) Have separate bank accounts, assets and visas with your spouse so as to avoid problems if accounts are frozen. The freezing of accounts upon death of a person will apply in respect of jointly-held or owned bank accounts as well.
5.) Ensure that adequate wealth planning is performed in respect of your estate, during your lifetime, to make provision for the costs of the administration of your estate and execution of your will in accordance with your will and testamentary wishes contained therein. If you have a dependent spouse or children, ensure to have adequate life insurance coverage which will pay out to them upon your demise, within a reasonable time following your passing – ideally within 48 hours so that your dependents are not left destitute.
10. Through a will, may I determine what should happen to my mortal remains after my passing?
Yes. You have the right to elect to be buried in a designated, Non-Muslim burial place (graveyard) within the UAE, or to be cremated at a designated, Non-Muslim crematorium. Should you wish for your body to be repatriated to another country, you may stipulate this as part of your will, but we advise for you to ensure that adequate provision be made for the expense and payment hereof, by means of an insurance policy or otherwise – this being a costly exercise. Also, you have the right to elect to become an organ donor, however, will be required to register yourself as such under the Hayat Application of the UAE via: https://hayat.mohap.gov.ae/sign-in
11. What may I not include as part of my testamentary wishes in a will?
As a general rule, no will or provision of a will shall be accepted if such a will contains a provision which is considered to be contrary to public policy. Presently, there is no clear definition of public policy or a coherent judicial practice on what that may constitute, however, when a will is examined by the Registrar of the Wills Probate Registries of ADJD, RAK ICC or DIFC, the Registrar may refuse the registration of the will which contains such provision and require its amendment or removal (facts dependent) at his/her discretion.
12. Do I need an Attorney to draft a will on my behalf, or can I draft a will by myself?
You need not mandate an Attorney for the drafting of a will, however, this is advised in protection of your Estate & Succession Planning interests. Also, Attorneys can assist you in simplifying the process and procedures of registration any ancillary services, as required.
13. In which language are Non-Muslim wills to be drafted in the UAE?
Wills which are to be registered under the Non-Muslim Wills Probate Registry Office of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, or which are to be Notarized before a Notary Public are required at least to be in Arabic language. It is, however, always recommended that any such document (where the Testator or Testatrix) is not an Arabic speaking person, to have the will drafted bilingually in Arabic and English together. For the Non-Muslim Wills Probate Registry Office of the DIFC or RAK ICC, documents in the English language are accepted. Please be advised that the above applies not only to a will, but also all ancillary documents which accompany a will – i.e. a title deed to a property.
14. Does a Non-Muslim will, which is executed and registered in the UAE, cover my worldwide moveable and immovable assets, or only that within the UAE?
An ADJD will, or a will executed and notarized before a UAE Notary Public may only include the moveable and immovable assets of a Testator / Testatrix within the geographical boundaries of the UAE.
As of the third quarter of 2019, the DIFC and RAK ICC extended its territorial application allowing for the inclusion of all movable and immovable assets of a Testator / Testatrix within the UAE and extending globally. The latter option (of including global assets) is not recommended as this may give rise to a conflict of the laws of countries / territories. A Full Will registered at the Registry may include assets within the UAE as well as outside of the UAE. If the jurisdiction of the will is extended beyond the UAE (as provided for under the DIFC & RAK ICC Wills Service), the Testator / Testatrix is urged to seek the necessary and appropriate legal advice to ensure whether or not a DIFC / RAK ICC Courts’ will could be enforced in the desired jurisdiction outside of the UAE.
15. What happens in respect of business partners and shareholders in a business in the UAE, if one shareholder or a partner pass away? Should I worry about the future, if one of us dies?
In the event of a partner or shareholder’s death, local probate laws are applied to a business, but the results may be unpleasant as shares do not pass automatically by survivorship, nor can another family member take over in lieu. However, arrangements can be secured to avoid local probate and guarantee business continuity by registering a Will.
16. What documents are required for the registration of a will at ADJD?
1.) Both the original and a copy of the passport of the testator / testatrix
2.) Both the original and a copy of the Emirates ID of the testator / testatrix (if applicable)
3.) The document that is to be legalized as a will and sufficient number of copies thereof (unless the registration is done virtually)
4.) Documentary proof of the property/assets bequeathed in the Will
5.) An official translation attested by the Ministry of Justice is required where the document is drafted in a language other than Arabic language.
6) Now all the process of getting will written and entered into Abudhabi Judicial Department is online. We can set up a Webex meeting to get this done. You need not be present in the court to complete the process.
17. What should my family do in the event of my death?
In the event of your death, your executor should contact the ADJD, RAK ICC, DIFC or UAE Courts (as applicable) without delay, where they will be guided through the Probate process.
18. If my will is properly registered under a Probate wills registry within the UAE, what procedure should my Executor(s) follow upon my death?
In accordance with the Rules, certain information and documents are required from your executor before they can submit an application for a Grant of Probate. The grant is a legal document which confirms that the executor has the authority to deal with the deceased person's assets (property, money and belongings). This is called 'administering the estate'. Once the ADJD, RAK ICC or DIFC Courts are in possession of this information, it is then reviewed by a Judge. If the case is straightforward, a Grant of Probate is normally issued within a matter of a few weeks. The appointed Executor(s) may then proceed to execute their functions and give effect to the provisions of the will.
19. What Marital Property Regimes exist?
a. Married in community of property: All the assets and debts from before the marriage are shared in a joint estate between both spouses. When couples are married in community of property, their separate estates are combined, and each spouse has the right to dispose of the assets as they wish.
b. Marriage out of community of property with application of the accrual system: This is a form of sharing of the assets (and liabilities) that are built up during the marriage. The theory is that each person is entitled to take out the asset value that he or she brought into the marriage, and then they share what they have built up together during their marriage.
c. Marriage out of community of property with the exclusion of the accrual system: This is a system whereby couples marry and each spouse keeps a separate estate; and whatever assets and liabilities they individually had before the marriage form part of their separate estates. For the duration of their marriage, these separate estates are maintained. In other words, ‘what’s mine is mine, and stays mine regardless of the marriage’.
20. What types of wills are included under the DIFC and RAK ICC Courts Wills Service?
1.) A full will – covering all movable and immovable assets, plus guardianship of minor children
2.) A Property will – covering shares in up to 5 real estate properties
3.) A Guardianship will – covering guardianship provisions for minors below the age of 21
4.) A Business Owner’s will – covering shares in up to 5 different companies
5.) A Financial Assets will – covering shares in up to 10 different bank accounts.
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