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MEDIA / Blog / Dubai’s DIFC Registry of Wills and Probate
The long-awaited DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (“DIFC WPR”) is now live. The DIFC WPR aims at addressing with certainty succession and inheritance matters of non-Muslims with assets in Dubai.

As such, it represents a fundamental step forward for the jurisdiction.

Legal  uncertainties  over  expatriate  wills  in  Dubai  will become a thing of the past with the launch early next year of a new registry.
 
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) hopes that the DIFC WPR – open to all non-Muslim expatriates – will benefit  those  wishing  to  hold  financial  and  real  estate assets in Dubai, but who are concerned about the uneven treatment of wills by the Dubai Courts.
 
The  new  registry  will  allow  non-Muslim  expatriates  over the age of 21 to register wills written in English in the DIFC Courts, doing away with the current need for translating wills into Arabic and having them attested by a local notary public.
 
Crucially,  the  registry  will  issue  a  court  order  from  the DIFC Courts, enforceable in the Dubai Courts for the direct distribution of Dubai-based assets in accordance with the register will, thus removing any ambiguity as to how held assets locally are distributed.
 
The  DIFC’s  Dispute  Resolution  Authority  (“DIFC  DRA”) hopes  that  the  new  registry  will  begin  offering  services during the first quarter of next year.
 
Only  assets  in  Dubai  can  be  included  in  wills  registered in  the  new  centre,  according  to  the  draft  rules.  Sources in the DIFC DRA said that the centre’s jurisdiction may be expanded to cover assets outside Dubai, but that such a move was not under active consideration.
 
While the existing UAE law in theory provides that the law of  the  nationality  of  a  non-Muslim  should  apply  to  the devolution of his or her estate, in practice the Dubai Courts have tended to apply Sharia law at first instance.
 
“Assuming the executors and heirs do not wish the Sharia rights  of  inheritance  to  apply,  they  are  then  forced  to appeal such decisions through the Dubai Courts,” he said. “Invariably, this process is uncertain and can take years to resolve. In the meantime, assets located in Dubai may be frozen, forcing some into financial hardship”.
 
Such  uncertainties  have  made  individuals  reluctant  to invest  in  Dubai,  choosing  to  minimize  assets  held  in  the emirate by keeping cash offshore and holding real estate (ultimately) through an offshore company, he noted. The launch of the registry has been welcomed by Dubai’s legal community for clearing up many of the ambiguities.
 
“After years of observing the pressing need for clarity on the current UAE wills and inheritance legislation, and the inconsistent approach of judges in inheritance matters, we are pleased to welcome the new regime,” said Nita Maru, managing partner of TWS Legal Consultants, and an active member of the working group involved in formulating and contributing to the registry’s rules.
 
The   registry   should   provide   certainty   for   non-Muslim expatriates to pass on their Dubai estate in the event of death to their chosen beneficiaries.
 
“It’s a very necessary step that the DIFC has taken. With the number  of  grey  areas  around  the  application  of  the  law and the problems that we’ve seen with judges refusing to recognize wills, something like this had to be done”, said Diana  Hamade,  managing  partner  of  IALS  in  Dubai,  also part of the working party.
 
The  services  of  the  new  registry  do  not  come  cheap, however. Under the draft rules, those wishing to use the registry will have to pay €2.500 to register their wills, more than double the standard cost typically charged by lawyers for  the  drafting,  translation,  and  attestation  of  wills  with the Dubai Courts.
 
“At the end of the day it’s about providing people with the choice,” said a Dubai-based lawyer who did not want to be named.
 
“If your situation is less complicated, or the total assets in Dubai are fewer, then the Dubai Courts is still an option, whereas for that extra peace of mind people can opt for the new registry.
 
The    draft    rules    are    largely    drawn    from    the    UK’s administration  of  estates  law,  and  also  draws  on  similar legislation  in  other  common  law  jurisdictions  including Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

IN SUMMARY

What is the DIFC WPR

An English language registry based inside the DIFC and enabling the formal registration of wills.
 
Who is aimed at

Non-Muslim individuals over the age of 21 with assets in Dubai. The DIFC WPR is not open to Muslims.
 
What assets are covered

Any   assets   physically   located   or   registered   in   the emirate  of  Dubai. The  DIFC WPR  does  not  extend  to assets located or registered in other emirates or abroad.

Real estate

Dubai located real estate can be covered in a DIFC will.

Who can register

UAE  residents  as  well  as  non-residents  can  register  a DIFC WPR.

DIFC WPR’s legal framework

The DIFC is a common law jurisdiction. The WPR’s rules are based primarily on the principles contained in the UK Estates Act and Probate Rules. Shariah principles do not form part of the DIFC WPR’s legal framework.

Any restrictions to the devolution of assets

The DIFC WPR provides for full testamentary freedom. Some   restrictions   may   apply   depending   on   the testator’s citizenship and/or place of residency.
 
Guardianship issues

The guardianship of minor children habitually residents in Dubai with the testator may be specifically addressed in a DIFC will.

How the DIFC WPR work in practice

An  appointment  is  booked  online  (www.difcprobate. ae). The execution of the will takes place at the time of registration in the presence of a registry officer and one witness chosen by the testator. The will is stored electronically at the DIFC WPR as the original.

Registration cost

€2.500  for  a  standard  DIFC WPR  and   €3.500  for  two mirror DIFC wills. They do not include professional fees for assistance in drafting the DIFC WPR, registering it, acting as witness, drafting the letter of wishes, being appointed and/or acting as executor.

Cost of enforcement

€1.250 for an application for a grant of probate. A“grant of probate” is a legal instrument that gives authority to the executor to handle the disposal of the deceased’s assets and debts.

Who can act as executor

A  family  member,  a  friend  or  a  legal  representative (attorney).  It  is  possible  to  appoint  co-executors  eg a  family  member  together  with  an  attorney.  Being appointed as executor is not neutral and comes with its set of specific duties.

Challenge to WPR

A  challenge  may  be  lodged  before  the  DIFC  Courts who will hear any claim launched against a will.










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