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As more people switch from tenancy to ownership of property in Dubai and with non-resident investors increasingly being attracted by the real estate projects in the emirate, legal protection for an individual’s assets has become an important consideration.
It is at this juncture the Government of Dubai and the DIFC Courts in a joint initiative established the Wills and Probate Registry. It provides a first-of-itskind service to residents and non-residents living and investing in Dubai to eliminate any perceived uncertainty in securing their assets and to offer a legal solution and the freedom to register English-language wills that distribute their inheritance according to their wishes.
The Wills and Probate Registry (WPR) began operations in May 2015 and since then 1,400 wills have been registered, with nationals from 61 countries benefiting — one-third being Indian, one-third British and one-third from the rest of the countries. About 30 wills are now being done in a week.
In an interview with PW, Sean Hird, Director of DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, spoke about the importance and simplicity of the will registration process for non-Muslim residents and non-residents who own assets in Dubai.
“Those wanting to register their wills can ring up the WPR and if they don’t have their own lawyer who is qualified to draft a will, we can direct them to a panel of registered lawyers,” says Hird. “Once the draft will is done, they can take an appointment at WPR and bring their draft will, witness statement, identity papers along with the witness.”
At the Registry, when a client comes in to register their will, “we talk them though the document to ensure that it reflects their wishes providing them a final chance to make changes. The Registration Officer dealing with the client will ask questions specifically with this in mind. If need be, the document can be amended here.”
The registration process, he says, takes an hour or longer depending on how complicated the particular portfolio is. Once the will is registered, the hard copy is given to the client and the original document is scanned into the WPR system, “thereby ensuring that the definitive will is with us, providing an extra level of safety, security and assurance to the client about any tampering”.
“If one intends to change any provision set forth in the will, it can be done by redoing it here and re-registering it,” says Hird.
Many residents remain unaware that the UAE does not provide the legal comfort of a common law will and that should a death of a family member arise their assets and guardianship of children will be subject to Sharia law principles, which is based on a fixed formula.
“The UAE law does specifically provide that non-Muslims can apply their own home law or whatever law they wish to choose to their inheritance matters,” says Hird.
“The UAE Personal Status Law has that specific opt-out for non-Muslims, recognising and respecting their wishes in the broader community that we live in. To exercise this opt-out provision, non-Muslims have to register their wills at the DIFC’s Wills and Probate Registry.
“It is incredibly important that assets go to their loved ones or to whomever they intended. The system at the DIFC does indeed give them that assurance.
“If you register your will here, it brings certainty to your investments and assets and how it is distributed. The benefit is that the order is passed at the DIFC Courts, which are highly regarded, fast and efficient.”
Once a registrant passes away, the executor (the person who is designated in the will to manage the estate of the deceased person) can approach the Registry with the death certificate, the will as well as identity papers.
The Registry then opens up a case at the DIFC Courts and the order is passed subject to availability of the court system within weeks.
“The DIFC Courts have a fantastic reputation for speed and efficiency,” says Hird. “In case of complicated settlement process involving extended families, business relationships and property trusts, it may take longer — a few months for the review. In all other cases involving property and monetary assets, we anticipate very quick orders.”
Guardianship of minors
The DIFC Wills and Probate Registry, besides registering property and assets, provides for the appointment of guardians for minor children. Normally, the father is the guardian and the mother is the custodian. But there is a distinction here in that if the father passes away, it is not automatically bestowed to the mother.
One can avoid such uncertainty or gain greater assurance by locking into the DIFC Courts procedure by registering the will at the Wills and Probate Registry.
In cases where both parents pass away, the court can appoint an interim guardian who can take the children to their home country.
There are two types of wills — the standard one covers assets plus or minus guardianship of minors. The other type covers only guardianship.
Regarding the costs of registering a will, there are two factors: what the client pays the lawyer to draft the will and the set registration fees at Wills and Probate Registry.
For a single will, the registration fee is Dh10,000, while for a mirror will involving one’s partner, it is Dh15,000. For guardianship of minor children, the fee is Dh5,000 and for a mirror will under this category, the amount is Dh7,500.
Modifications can also be made and the will re-registered for an economical fee of Dh550. Hird says minor amendments can be done without complications. “We don’t plan to charge clients for those.”
“We take our service commitment very seriously at the Wills and Probate Registry,” says Hird. “There is a set of mandatory rules and guidelines under the registry on how wills should be framed. We recommend legal advice to look into tax considerations and a host of other issues.
There are clear guidelines on the registry website and in case there are any queries — potential customers can always ring up our office.”
To drive home the message to the wider community here in Dubai, Hird has started reaching out by giving public lectures to embassies, consulates and business groups outlining the advantages of registering wills so that expatriates can benefit from the rights provided by the Dubai authorities.
“We get tremendous positive feedback, in terms of the service that we provide. We deal with customers with sensitivity and professionalism. It is a brilliant system with our people-to-people engagement model.
“We support the legal community as well to help them serve the general public. The lawyers have to be registered with us to be on our approved panel.
We conduct tests to ensure standards are met and we conduct regular courses for lawyers through the Academy of Law, an associate company, on how to draft a will. “We market these courses to the legal community and we want to encourage all lawyers to sign up for this.
“We provide advice to our customers on their wills, but we are not here to replace lawyers. The buzzword for us is participation. “Going forward, we are looking at new innovations at the registry specific to property, particularly for investors.
We want to respond to the needs of the market and how people are commercially engaged with Dubai. We are also looking to participate in events like the Cityscape in future to create more awareness among investors.”
On the products and services side, Hird says that they are “formulating how best to serve the community and reflect the investments that are
going on around here”.
“When people come in to buy property, they should get to know about the registry.”
He thinks investors should look at the long term and the assurance provided by the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry will go a long way to encourage them towards that.
The Wills and Probate Registry’s latest innovation is to forge a relationship with six top UAE banks to provide easy payment plans to cover the will registration costs for low and mid-income individuals. Emirates NBD and RAK BANK have already announced a zero per cent easy payment plans of up to 12 months. “The other four banks will also be on board soon,” says Hird.
Source: Krishna Kumar, Special to PW