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DIFC Wills & Probate Registry – The Smart Way to Protect your Assets in Dubai

Elena Schildgen

Author: Elena Schildgen
Senior Partner Lawyer.

Guiding Principle
The DIFC Wills & Probate Registry is the first jurisdiction in the MENA region allowing the registration of an English language will under internationally recognized common law to give residents and non-residents a legal solution and the freedom to dispose of assets according to their wishes in case of inheritance.

1. General Overview:
The DIFC Wills & Probate Registry is a joint initiative of the Government of Dubai and the DIFC Courts offering first-of-its kind services allowing eligible individuals to register wills and dispose of their assets and property upon death as they see fit.
Since its establishment in May 2015, the number of wills registered to date stands at 1583 in September 2016. This number highlights the increasing importance residents and investors place on having a will to plan their succession for assets and property in Dubai thus avoiding either
• having to move assets overseas due to perceived uncertainty or
• a process which, in absence of a registered will, is time consuming and fraught with legal complexity.
Thus, the major benefit of the will registration system is to end ambiguity whether Sharia law principles should apply to the inheritance of foreigners’ property because judgments of the DIFC courts i.e. probate decisions, are now directly enforceable in the courts of Dubai.

2. Registration Process:
Information required to register a will with the DIFC Wills & Probate Registry are available online and as stated by the Registry “anyone of age of majority and sound mind may write their own will and change it anytime during their life without consulting an attorney or a professional legal representative”. However, experience shows that ever so often wills drafted without legal assistance are either invalid or ineffective. The Registry clearly states that they do not provide legal advice, but on the other hand, they do strongly recommend making use of the services of a licensed practitioner. This should avoid that a will does not comply with the Registry’s requirements and the registration is delayed. Kindly note that only lawyers registered to draft and register a “DIFC-Will” at the DIFC Wills & Probate Registry will be able to act on behalf of testators. The list of registered lawyers is available on their website under “Register of Will Draftsmen” Please follow the link to check the registration of Elena Schildgen of Meyer-Reumann & Partners as licensed legal practitioner.

3. Registration Options:
Both residents and non-residents in the UAE can register their DIFC-Will, as long as they have assets in Dubai and are eligible to opt-in the DIFC jurisdiction. This requires a formal registration of the DIFC-Will. The following options are available:
   a) DIFC Property Will:
As of September 6, 2016 testators are able to complete and submit for registration at the Registry a will that specifically covers up to five (5) real estate properties (or a share in any such five properties). The requirements are that the testator
• is not a Muslim and has never been a Muslim,;
• is over 21 years of age; and
• owns real estate in Dubai.
It is not possible to include any other assets or the guardianship of children. The registration fees are AED 7.500 for a single property will or AED 10.000 for two mirror wills i.e. spouses sign wills at the same time.
   b) DIFC Will:
A last will and testament covering real estate properties and all other assets of any kind can be registered applying the same conditions i.e. the testator is Non-Muslim, above 21 years of age and the assets are located in Dubai.
The last will and testament may even include provisions for the guardianship of minor children of the testator provided the children live with the testator and are resident in Dubai.
The registration fees of a single will are AED 10.000 or AED 15.000 for two mirror wills i.e. spouses sign wills at the same time.
   c) Guardianship Will:
In the event that a testator, Non-Muslim and above 21 years of age, does not own any assets in Dubai, it is also possible to register a last will and testament solely pertaining to the appointment of guardians of the minor children resident with the testator in Dubai.
The registration fees of a single will are AED 5.000 or AED 7.500 for two mirror wills i.e. spouses sign wills at the same time.

4. Registration Appointment:
The last wills and testaments should be drafted in accordance with certain minimum stipulations as per standard DIFC forms and if drafted by a lawyer such lawyer needs to be registered in the register of will draftsmen.
   a) Booking of Appointment
Appointments for the signing and registration of the last will and testament can be made online at upon payment of a booking fee of AED 1.000 per will. In case of cancellation, this fee is non-refundable. The appointment may be re-scheduled twice.
The remaining balance can be paid in cash, by cheque or by credit card at the time of signing. Please note that installment plans for payment of the registration fees are also available from EmiratesNBD
   b) Required Documents
For the appointment you need to bring your unsigned will (with any annexes), title deeds, your Passport and/or Emirates ID and that of the witness, and details of beneficiaries and other documentation the last will may refer to. Two witnesses are also required: the attendant at the DIFC Registry acts as one of these witnesses and the other witness may be anyone other than a beneficiary of the will (the lawyer who drafted the will or a friend or relative can attend provided they are not named in the will).
   c) Completion
Once completed, it is registered at the DIFC Registry and then stored in electronic form (which provides additional security) for 120 years calculated from the birthdate of the testator. The testator receives as many certified copies as requested without additional charge. It is advisable to keep certified copies also with the executors/trustees and or beneficiaries.

October, 2016 Elena Schildgen
Meyer-Reumann & Partners, Dubai Office
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