Expats have been drawn to Dubai to live and work, set up their business and invest in property for quite some time, but until now there has been little clarity as to how those assets would be treated should the owner of those assets pass away. Hopefully, lengthy and uncertain court proceedings are now a thing of the past as a Law on the administration of non-Muslims’ estates and execution of their wills in Dubai (Law No. 15 of 2017) has entered into force on 7 November 2017.
This welcomed development brings onshore Dubai in line with the existing register for wills in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), where it has been possible for expats to register their wills since 2015 and Abu Dhabi, where non-Muslims were able to register their wills since August 2016. This development hopefully sees an increased confidence among non-Muslim residents that their assets will be distributed in accordance with their wishes should something happen to them. The new Law makes it clear that all the wills registered with the DIFC prior to coming of the force of the Law remain valid.
The provisions of this new Law apply to the wills and estates of non-Muslims in the Emirate of Dubai (including the DIFC), although there is no clarity as to whether the will has to be issued in Dubai or if the law would also apply to wills prepared and signed abroad. If the deceased has left a will how it is executed will depend on whether the will has been registered. If the will is registered then it will be executed by a written order of the Court. If the will has not been registered then in order to be executed, a beneficiary (or his guardian) will need to make a written request to the Competent Court which would then issue a judgment. It is this order or judgment which will then permit the transfer of property to the beneficiary.
The Law requires a will to be registered with the Non-Muslim Wills and Probate Register in the Dubai Courts, which has not yet been established at the time of writing. There are following requirements for registering a will:
> the testator must be non-Muslim;
> the will must be valid;
> it shall appoint an executor and indicate the method of disposing of the relevant property;
> it has to be signed or stamped or sealed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses;
> the will must not contain any deletions, scrapings, insertions or additions; and
> all the required fees must be paid.
As with any other document submitted to the Dubai Court, if the will is in writing and in any other language than Arabic, it would need to be accompanied by an approved legal translation. The new law also sheds light on what is required for a will to be valid, for example the testator must be competent and over 21 years of age and the property being disposed of is owned by the testator, among other things. Interestingly, according to Article 7, the will can be made orally although from an evidential perspective we suspect this could lead to unnecessary hurdles when seeking to enforce a will and obtain the required court order/judgment.
The new law also deals with instances where the testator has left multiple wills, gives the ability for the beneficiary to either accept or reject the will and even provides that if the deceased has no heirs and does not leave a will, the estate shall pass on to the Public Treasury of the Government of Dubai.
The new law also makes provisions for the invalidation of wills and provides an option for a testator who has registered his will to then register a cancellation.
In order to administer a will, an executor is appointed under the new law. Ideally, the will should set out who the executor will be, but if the will is silent, the executor will be appointed in accordance with the beneficiary’s wishes or as ordered by the court. The new law also sets out some of the obligations and duties of the executors, which will need to be performed under the supervision of the Court – either Dubai Courts or the DIFC Courts.
Despite this being a welcomed development, the law is not as clear as some would have hoped, as it does not provide much practical guidance, nor is it known how will the provisions of this new Law be applied in practice. To date, the Register has not been established with the Dubai Courts nor have any resolutions envisaged under the law been issued, either by the President of the Court or the Chairman of the Executive Council. We are also not aware of any of the cases to date which have gone through the Dubai Courts system under the new law. So, whilst the new law has laid down the groundwork, further details and guidance is eagerly awaited to see how it will be implemented, and work, in practice.