Tim Elliot: Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first and only, even now, regular legal podcast. My name’s Tim Elliot. I’m with the Managing Partner of the Dubai-based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, Ludmila Yamalova. How nice to see you.
Ludmila Yamalova: Good to see you too, Tim.
Tim Elliot: This episode of Lawgical, registering a civil will at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, Ludmila. This is important news, I think. We’ve got more and more people living here in the U.A.E., making the U.A.E. their home, or at least spending more time here, so this announcement is welcome.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed. Just as a way of a reminder, this is not the first forum or option for civil wills in the U.A.E. We have covered this before on previous podcasts. The DIFC, or the Dubai International Financial Centre Wills Centre has been in existence for a few years now, allowing non Muslim expats or non Muslims in general to register wills in the U.A.E. It started out just being limited to Dubai assets, and then it extended to Ras Al Khaimah, and not it basically not only has extended to the rest of the U.A.E., but also globally. In other words, you can include your global estate into the DIFC will. We have talked about that. That particular service is located under the DIFC umbrella.
However, one of the perhaps drawbacks or shortcomings of this particular service that we have experienced, or we’ve heard complaints about, is the cost of registering a DIFC will. It is quite pricey. It certainly has many other benefits, as we’ve discussed before. For those who are perhaps more cost conscious, or those who have, in their minds at least, fairly simple scenarios in terms of what their life earnings or their estate may be, that cost in the DIFC is pretty pricey. Also, in most of the cases, not only do you need to pay the DIFC will fees, but also the DIFC Centre fees, and also lawyer fees because those wills have to be drafted in a certain kind of way.
Be it as it may, now Abu Dhabi has not long ago introduced its own version for civil wills, and that is through its Abu Dhabi family court which sits under the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department or ADJD, and as part of this service, which was created by virtue of a specific law, which is law #14 of 2021 concerning civil marriages and its effects in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. This civil will service was introduced and now in addition to the DIFC, residents, tourists, whoever it is that wants to register interests or a civil will in the U.A.E. also now has the option of registering through ADJD. The cost for that particular service is a lot less arduous than the DIFC fees. It’s a fairly new service, but certainly not the first one.
Tim Elliot: So, you can now register a will in Abu Dhabi. What do you have to do? What’s the process? What kinds of documentation do you need to provide?
Ludmila Yamalova: As is perhaps becoming a lot more of a common practice these days in the U.A.E., a lot of these government services are becoming almost exclusively accessible online or digitally, which makes it a lot more efficient and a lot more economical in terms of availing yourself of these kinds of benefits. In this particular case, it’s all done through the ADJD website. To access the service, you just go on the ADJD site. ADJD stands for, once again, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, which is the Abu Dhabi courts. You log into the ADJD website using your U.A.E. Pass. We have talked about the U.A.E. Pass before in our podcasts, and this is one of the significant benefits of activating your U.A.E. Pass. It becomes your centralized login into all sorts of government services. You log in with your U.A.E. Pass into ADJD, and there, there is a special service that’s called the Civil Family Court E-services, and under it, there is an application for a request to authenticate a civil will. That is the sub service on the website in this package. Then from there on, there are two ways of actually submitting or doing a will. You can either use an ADJD template. They do have their own template, which by the way is in English and Arabic and which is very convenient for most, especially those who have a fairly simple estate, if you will, and for whom this template would work because you can just use it as is for the most part. That is one option.
The other option is if you want to have your own will, you can also introduce your own draft, but that draft will have to be legally translated into Arabic as well. Another benefit of using the ADJD template is you don’t need to translate, and that draft is already basically verified by the authorities. You do have two options, either using their template or you can have your own template, as long as it has both English and Arabic.
Perhaps this is one difference between the ADJD civil will and the DIFC will, because in the DIFC, it is all English only, so there is no necessity for having to translate your will, which by the way is also beneficial for many because those who are not Arabic speakers to have a will or a document like this in another language, it is perhaps not useful, but in some ways, it is distracting as well. If you wanted to compare the pluses and minuses between the two options, that is just another factor to keep in mind.
Once you have submitted that, and as part of the application, what you do is you submit the draft will and your documents, which is basically your passport copy and also an Emirate’s ID, then pay the fee, and you have submitted the application, again, all online, then you’ll get a notification from ADJD that your application has been accepted. Then the court will follow up with regards to a specific date for the appointment to validate and to ultimately formalize and finalize the will. That appointment, again, in a few days you will hear back from the courts with the specific date and a link, again, it’s an electronic link for you to appear online electronically before the authorities to verify the will and then to formalize it.
Again, fairly technologically advanced and very efficient. When the link arrives with the email, then on the day of that appointment you log in, and all you need to do is verify that the draft will that you had already submitted is your will. You just go through the details of the will and your identification documents and your identification details and confirm that this is your will, and this is how you want it to be. At that point, the authorities will then consider that to be the registration and validation of your wishes. Then you have your attested will. After that, they will send you the attested will. Voila. You have your will ready.
Tim Elliot: It’s a million miles from my image of creating a will in my mind, the dusty old wood paneled lawyer’s office with the weighty legal tomes in the bookcase and all of that. You could almost do it on the beach or in the car, as long as you appear. It’s completely different.
Ludmila Yamalova: I think most people probably do exactly that, do it from the beach or from the car. Absolutely. It’s interesting because we’ve even seen how this process has evolved, for example, in the DIFC, where in the beginning and part of the DIFC’s whole proposition and package is that you would actually go. Online or any kind of remote registration of a will was not allowed. It just was not an option. It was not allowed. It just would not be entertained. Obviously, COVID had flipped everything upside down and on its head. After COVID, it become optional. Now I don’t even think that’s even an option for you to physically be present there. But when it started out, it was very similar to what you’re describing. You would not only have to physically show up there, but you would also have to go through a fairly complex drafting because the language is very legalese. There is a whole list of questions and ideas that you need to consider. I am not saying that process is still not required. For many, that’s still a better option because their lives are perhaps a lot more complicated and may need to be addressed and documented in ways that are a lot more complex, which perhaps in that case the DIFC Will Centre is more suitable. But for so many other people who just live here and all they have is just one bank account, for example, or a car, or just want to include guardianship provisions for their children, then the ADJD is definitely a very good alternative. But the DIFC started out that way. You would go and not only physically have to present yourself and meet and actually go through the will literally word by word, page by page, and then sign every page, and afterwards they would give you this very nice leather-bound folder or multiple copies of these folders, depending on how many wills or how many of you were there registering. If you were a couple, then you would walk away with this big, nice leather-bound folder of your will.
Fast forward five years, now that’s not even an option. It’s all QR code. The DIFC wills now, they don’t even print a copy. There are no more original stamps. Before there was always a question at the end of your will appointment how many copies you want, how many true copies, and then there will be stamping with their actual physical stamps and ribbons and leather-bound binders. Now that’s no longer an option. The only thing you’ll get is an electronic form of your will bought with a QR code, which obviously is verifiable and a lot more efficient.
Tim Elliot: Times have changed. The other thing, and you alluded to this, the DIFC will is still a relatively expensive process, and there are reasons for that. For some people, that’s the way to go, but if you register your civil will in Abu Dhabi, it is substantially cheaper. It’s much more – what’s the phrase? – cost effective.
Ludmila Yamalova: Indeed, it is. On that note, the application or the registration of a civil will, the fee is 950 dirhams. Now, it is still about $300 something in dollars, but if you compare to the DIFC where, depending on the type of will, we are talking about thousands of dirhams, it’s about 10,000 dirhams versus 1,000 dirhams. It’s about 10 times cheaper to do it in ADJD. Again, it’s not an option for everyone, but certainly it is a very cost effective, economical, and very effective option for many others who live in the U.A.E. or who have some sort of interest in the U.A.E.
Tim Elliot: So, that’s how you do it and what it costs. What’s your advice, just generally speaking, Ludmila, what’s your advice to someone who’s thinking of making a will? What do they need to do? I suppose as well, who should have a will?
Ludmila Yamalova: I would say perhaps anyone who lives in the U.A.E. or works in the U.A.E. or has any interests in the U.A.E., I would say, they should have a will. Why? Because if you work here, even if you don’t anything, but you work here, you still have something of value. You have a bank account. If you work here, you receive money into that bank account. You most likely have a car. You probably have some kind of personal possessions in your house, even if it is a rented property. Then also, if you’re married, and most likely you are, not most likely, but in many cases, you have children. These wills, also one of the benefits of these wills is they also include provisions about guardianships and custody for your minor children. Even if you’re not very asset rich, if you have minor children, it’s just a very sensible precaution or almost like an insurance plan or a roadmap that you can have just to ensure that your wishes are well documented and can ultimately be relied on when you are not around to see them through. I would say everyone should consider having one. In the past, it was more difficult to stay that way, and that’s why your question is very well phrased, because of the cost. While I think it’s sensible for people to have a will, but previously, the DIFC, the cost was so exorbitant for many people who perhaps don’t have many assets, and they may just have minor children or all they have is just one bank account. It just perhaps would not have been fair to say everybody should have a will, but now with this option available, not only is it financially affordable, but also in terms of the practical ways of executing it, it is all online. You don’t have to drive to Abu Dhabi. You don’t need to be an Abu Dhabi resident. It is important to highlight that when you have this will, you are not just registering a document. It’s not just a contract, which is, by the way, the case in most other jurisdictions. You just basically have a contract. This, you are registering with the authorities, and not only just authorities, judicial authorities. Because let’s say if you have a will in the U.S., it’s a contract. Basically, you draft a contract and you basically deposit it either with your lawyers or you exchange it with your spouse or your family members, and that’s about it. You don’t have to register with any kind of official authority.
In this case, especially with the ADJD, but similar in the DIFC, this is all being conducted and administered and registered and stored ultimately with, not just an authority, but the judicial authority, i.e., the courts. Therefore, when the time comes to actually enforce or probate – that’s another legalese term for enforcing the will – it’s already done under the umbrella of the courts. What you ultimately have, or I guess your heirs would have, is a court judgment. It’s a court decision. Not just, hey, listen, this is my will, and I want now to go ahead and enforce it, it’s just a court decision. They will say, okay, this is basically the mandate of the testator. This is quite important to highlight.
Also, one more thing that people have expressed concerns about, well, how is it, what if it’s Abu Dhabi, but my assets are in Dubai? What does that mean? Well, because it will be a court judgment, and it’s a local court judgment, i.e., an U.A.E. court judgment, it will be equal in force in other emirates, as it would be in the issuing emirate. In other words, just because it’s an Abu Dhabi court that is issuing this, this decision or this decree, it does not make it unenforceable in other emirates. Because it is still a local court decree, it will be equal in force in other emirates. That’s an important point to emphasize, that it is not just a document, it is not just a contract, but in fact, it will lead to a court issued document or mandate or decree to which the heirs and beneficiaries can later on rely on throughout the U.A.E.
Tim Elliot: And courts tend to recognize courts, particularly the courts in this country, so that makes a lot of sense. Rather than a will that was perhaps drafted in a different country many years ago, that’s clearly going to be a more difficult process. This seems pretty streamlined to me.
Ludmila Yamalova: It certainly is. Now, as I say this, and we talked about it in the beginning, the law that allowed for this and introduced this service was ultimately introduced in the beginning of 2022. It’s only about a year and a half old. The service is available, and it is accessible. We’ve tested it. We’ve seen it at work. Now, we have not yet seen anyone actually have to probate one of these wills, which perhaps is a good thing. How it’s going to be applied in practice remains to be seen, and when we do have an actual case study, we’ll certainly do another followup podcast on that topic. But I predict, knowing how in other circumstances or in other cases, when you have an Abu Dhabi judgment, how to enforce it in other emirates, it’s a fairly straightforward process.
Tim Elliot: You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future, but at least you can try to make provisions for what might, is the point.
Ludmila Yamalova: The idea here, I would say I can actually predict what would happen, and that is, once you have an Abu Dhabi or ADJD decision, you enforce it in any other emirate, just as you would enforce another court decision from any one of these emirates across the U.A.E. The process is more or less predictable. It’s just we have not seen one of these wills in particular being applied in other emirates just yet.
Tim Elliot: That’s another edition of Lawgical, registering a civil will in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the U.A.E., in the ADJD, that’s the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department. As ever, thank you for watching, listening, or both. Thanks to our legal expert, the Managing Partner here at Yamalova & Plewka, Ludmila Yamalova. Thank you very much.
Ludmila Yamalova: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Elliot: Now, find us at LYLAW on social media, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn. The podcasts, they’re all free at LYLawyers.com. If you’d like a legal question answered in Lawgical in a future episode, or if you’d like to talk to a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click the Contact button, once again, at LYLawyers.com.