UAE - Since Covid struck, UAE expats as young as 40 have started writing their wills, according to some of the top legal advisors and lawyers in the country.
“Normally, those coming to us for estate planning are 50 and above, but it appears that the pandemic may have made people consider sooner and more carefully their family’s future and getting their estates in order long before they would ordinarily start the process,” said Dipali Maldovado, senior consultant at Al Tamimi and Company.
Nita Maru, managing partner at TWS Legal Consultants, agreed. “Will enquiries have surged at TWS since the onset of the pandemic. Expats are looking for certainty and peace of mind during these uncertain times. Writing a will gives them the security they are looking for in knowing that their assets and family will be protected in the worst-case scenario. Legacy and succession planning has now become an urgent priority for all,” said Maru, adding that technology has also been playing a vital role in helping with the surge in demand for wills, especially as DIFC wills can be registered virtually.
More than 1,600 people have died due to Covid-19 in the UAE since the first case was reported in January 2020. Sudden and unexpected deaths due to the Sars-Cov-2 infection have brought to the fore the importance of getting wills done right through authorised legal firms, the experts said. It has made people aware that wills in home countries are not sufficient, and wills that are not duly registered in the UAE are just worth a piece of blank paper.
“Historically, home-country wills have been used via the local courts in the unfortunate event of the demise of an expat. However, anecdotally, I understand cases are lengthy (and therefore expensive) and the conclusions not always what is expected. More robust options do exist,” said Stuart Porter, founder of Great British Wills.
An Indian widow (name withheld on request) recently found herself struggling to get the will of her deceased husband honoured for the lack of authenticity. The woman had a will that was stamped by the Indian Consulate and the Ministry of Justice, but since it wasn’t signed before the notary public, it lacked legitimacy to be implemented. She is among those struggling to gain ownership of the assets built or held in her husband’s name despite having a will. Even though the UAE announced legislative changes in November last year with reference to wills, law firms in the country are yet to see a case where such foreign will has been honoured.
“Having a will in place in the country of origin is regarded by many expatriates as essential planning when they move to live and work abroad, offering peace of mind in the event of a tragedy. However, many non-Muslim expatriates in the UAE are unaware that in the absence of a legally registered will in the UAE, the process of transferring assets after death can be time-consuming, costly and fraught with legal complexity. This could mean that assets accumulated during their time in the UAE may not go to their loved ones as they would have intended. Such assets include not only real estate but also bank accounts, motor vehicles, end-of-service or gratuity payments, personal possessions, and so on. Even if a bank account is registered in joint names, it is important to note that bank accounts will be frozen upon the passing of one of the account-holders until such time as probate has been granted,” said Ruksana Ellahi, senior associate at Al Tamimi and Company.
Having a valid will in the UAE serves a practical purpose, said Maru. “It allows the courts in the UAE to be able to deal with the distribution of the assets, bank accounts, etc., with ease as there is evidence of your intentions.”
“While legacy planning should be on everyone’s agenda, it is only natural that people only really start considering it when there is a trigger such as the pandemic. All non-Muslim expatriates with assets in the UAE should consider registering a will to create legal certainty for the inheritance of their assets after death and the appointment of guardians for any children. This not only allows individuals to have testamentary freedom to dispose of their assets as they wish, it also provides peace of mind that an individual’s estate will be distributed according to their wishes and gives clarity on the process to surviving family members,” said Maldonado.
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