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Recent tensions in the Middle East have provided added motivation to expatriates living in the region to ensure they have protected their regional (and international) assets and effectively planned for the future. This article covers the use of DIFC Wills together with recent updates to the rules which broaden their application beyond the UAE.

Implementing a DIFC Will is one of the most simple ways for non-Muslim expatriates living in the UAE to guarantee the succession of their local assets if anything happens to them. The DIFC Wills Service Centre, established in 2015, allows non-Muslim expatriates to implement a DIFC Will so that their assets are distributed in accordance with their wishes on death, avoiding the application of Shariah succession rules.

Recent changes

The Dispute Resolution Authority Order No. 3 of 2019 implemented three main changes to the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry Rules (the Rules):

1. Geographical Scope

Previously, DIFC Wills could only cover assets in Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah. However, as of 30 June 2019, testators can include their worldwide assets in their DIFC Wills. DIFC Wills that have already been registered can be amended to take advantage of this increased geographical scope.

Of course, professional advice should be taken as to whether or not a 'worldwide will' is likely to be effective in any other jurisdiction.

It is important to note that the guardianship provisions in DIFC Wills will continue to be valid only for minors habitually residing in either Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah.

2. Witnesses

Previously, an authorised officer from the DIFC Wills Service Centre could serve as a second witness to DIFC Wills. For will signings from 30 June 2019, the testator is required to bring two independent witnesses (i.e. individuals who are not beneficiaries or guardians, or spouses of beneficiaries or guardians) to witness the signature of their DIFC Will.

3. Electronic format Wills

Under rule 10(9) of the Rules, all registered Wills and other documents under the control of the Registrar of the DIFC Courts shall be retained electronically in the Wills Registry for Non-Muslims at the DIFC Courts' (the Registry) records. The electronic format Will retained by the Registry shall be treated as the original Will for DIFC purposes. However, the original hard copy may be retained by the testator.

Our View

The changes are welcome. Whilst they do not solve potential conflict of laws issues with cross border estates, in a number of scenarios the geographical extension of wills should assist clients in ensuring that their UAE and certain overseas assets pass in accordance with their wishes.

Essential requirements for DIFC Wills

  • Minimum age of testator: 21
  • Religion of testator: non-Muslim
  • Registration fee: AED 5,000 to AED 15,000 (depending on form i.e. guardianship and assets)
  • Registration: DIFC Wills Service Centre
  • Guardianship provisions: both temporary and permanent provisions can be included

Our team

Trowers & Hamlins' Private Wealth team comprises 24 personnel led by 6 partners. We have an experienced team of Private Wealth lawyers located in Dubai who can meet at short notice to advise on DIFC Wills as well as wider succession planning for your assets located elsewhere to ensure that everything dovetails.

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