Before you read on, just a heads up that this is a pretty serious post…
It’s pretty serious and also pretty important. In fact, very important. Indeed, it is a post about last wills and testaments.
And I’m not going to lie…it is something I HATE thinking about. In fact I hate it so much, my husband and I largely avoided the subject in our ten years as a couple and our four years living in the UAE, until recently…
The birth of our son was a wakeup call. Arriving in the UAE over four years ago, we were fresh young professionals, with little under our belt. Fast forward to the present and we are doing pretty well. We have a need to protect our assets – and of course, the most precious thing in our whole world – Zachy.
Upon last meeting our financial advisor he strongly strongly advised that we get our wills in order “should the worst happen”. Again, it made me completely shudder to think about, but what terrified me more was what VERY LITTLE knowledge both my husband and I had about UAE inheritance laws, guided under Sharia law.
Here are just a few things that I was unaware of…
- In the absence of a will, the UAE courts can intervene regarding the guardianship of your children, usually passing to the next male in a husband’s bloodline i.e. his father, brother, uncle.
- For minor children that are left without family (i.e. if both parents die) and the parents did not leave a will naming friends – local authorities will be obliged to safeguard them.
- A surviving wife who has children qualifies for 1/8th of her husband’s estate*, and a surviving husband who has children qualifies for 1/4th of his wife’s estate (*pertains to estate in the UAE, not abroad).
- Upon a sponsor’s death both individual and joint bank accounts in the country will be frozen.
- Upon a sponsor’s death the family’s visas will be cancelled within 30 days and they will have to leave the country.
Learning these facts spurred my husband and I to take a deep hard look at the “what ifs” in our life. We were referred by our advisor to TWS Legal Consultants to get some advice, and have since set in motion our legal documentation to ensure we have our wills and wishes in order “should the worst happen”.
But I know we’re probably not the only expats in the UAE who sweep things under the rug and look the other way. Who turn a blind eye and hope for the best. Who hope and pray that the worst never ever happens… But it can happen, and it is important to face that reality, as hard as a one hour legal consultation can be.
I therefore thought to put together this blog post – written from my clueless viewpoint, and from the viewpoint of someone who really knows their stuff – Nita Maru, a Solicitor and Managing Partner of TWS Legal Consultants.
Here are a few questions and answers that might be helpful if you’re in a similar position (and mind-frame) as me…
Q: Why is it important for expats living in the UAE to have a will, and what are the consequences of not having a will in place?
For expats living in the UAE, there is a very simple reason to make a will; generally the UAE Courts will adhere to Sharia Law where there is no will in place.
This means that if you die without a will, the local courts will examine your estate and distribute it according to Sharia law. All personal assets of the deceased, including bank accounts, will be frozen until liabilities have been discharged. A wife who has children will qualify for only one-eighth of her deceased husband’s estate, and without a will this distribution will be applied automatically. Even shared assets will be frozen until the issue of inheritance is determined by the local courts. There is also no automatic transfer of shares where businesses are concerned.
Q: What will happen to my child if my husband dies?
Sharia law dictates that guardianship always remains with the father, whereas the reverse applies in most, if not all, Commonwealth jurisdictions. With respect to custody, the mother is the custodian until her son reaches the age of 11 and her daughter reaches the age of 13. The custodian is simply the person who physically cares for the child on a day to day basis.
The guardian however is the person who makes the legal decisions regarding the child. The majority of families – and mother in particular – are not aware that on her husband’s death, guardianship does not automatically pass to her. On the death of the child’s father, Sharia law dictates that the child’s paternal grandfather is appointed guardian. It is therefore particularly important for a father to prepare a will to ensure that the mother of his children is appointed the permanent guardian and custodian. If a will is not prepared, Sharia law applies by default and dictates who is appointed as guardian.
Q: How can I ensure my assets are distributed to my wish should my husband or I die?
A will is the most common instrument used for passing on assets to inheritors chosen by the deceased, and it details how you wish your estate to be distributed after your death. Apart from dictating who should inherit your assets, a will can also be used to specify other wishes such as long-term guardians for your children; executors and specific gifts.
I hope this has been helpful! If you have any more questions, I really am not the right person to ask, but feel free to reach out and set up a consultation with Nita to discuss queries and concerns further: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.twslegal.ae
P.s. sorry for the seriousness. I promise there is a funny coming your way soon.
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