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While news that Dubai will be getting its own monopoly board next month has highlighted the ups and downs of the Emirate’s property market, it may also serve as a timely reminder to ex-pats working in the region of the importance of having a valid will.
Without one, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) courts will distribute an estate according to the principles of Sharia law, with personal assets, including bank accounts, frozen until liabilities have been discharged.
Sharia law also dictates that anything remaining should be distributed in a clearly defined way, with, for example, the wife of the deceased receiving one eighth of the estate if she has children or one quarter if she doesn’t. And, should children lose their father, Sharia law does not automatically grant legal guardianship to their mother.
Jointly held assets, meanwhile, can be frozen until the court rules on the specifics of the inheritance and succession. The survivorship rule, by which joint assets can be automatically transferred in some circumstances, does not apply in the UAE, with joint owners’ shares treated separately.
Shares also do not pass automatically by survivorship, meaning a business could end up in the hands of family members with no understanding of how to run it.
In 2015, in a bid to address concerns such as these among the expatriate community and to simplify the whole succession process, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) opened its Wills and Probate Registry. If non-Muslim ex-pats register their will here, Sharia law will not apply to their assets in the UAE.
With that taken care of, ex-pats can perhaps turn their attention to the question of which of Dubai’s property hot-spots will be taking on the role of Pall Mall or Park Lane next month.