Will registry process for UAE’s non-Muslim expats will be ‘clear and manageable’

Tuesday's change to the law is expected to ensure that a clear and managable process for expats and families in the unfortunate event of a death.

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ABU DHABI // The lack of a wills registry for non-Muslim expatriates in the capital has led to long delays and substantial legal costs at times.

However, the Government’s decision on Tuesday to register wills for non-Muslims is expected to ensure a clear and managable process for non-Muslim expats and their families in the event of death.

Previously, a court would automatically freeze the assets of deceased expats – including bank accounts and properties – under Sharia.

The application of Sharia differs depending on which family member has died, so the process seems complicated and unexpected.

Assets shared between a couple would be frozen until every member of the immediate and extended family is contacted.

So even though there is no dispute about who gets what, the process of contacting relatives overseas may delay its conclusion.

During the process, the immediate family of the deceased will not have access to his or her accounts.

Under Sharia, for example, a wife with children will qualify for only one-eighth of the estate, in contrast to other foreign legal systems.

If the deceased had no son, the parents, brothers and sisters get a bigger share of the assets.

A son’s share is twice that of his sister’s, and only blood relatives of the deceased are entitled to inherit. Adopted children get nothing.

Sharia will still be used if expats do not have a will.

Lawyers have welcomed the move to set up a registration system for the wills of non-Muslims but said it remained to be seen how the courts would treat wills that were drawn up abroad – a separate and complicated issue.

“Are they accepting foreign-based wills or insisting on a locally drafted will?” asked Cynthia Trench of Trench and Associates. “Previously neither were accepted. You had to file an appeal to uphold your intentions.”

Ms Trench said the appeal process would take between 12 and 18 months, and hiring a lawyer for that could cost up to Dh100,000.