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Civil Wills for Muslims in the UAE

Civil Wills for Muslims in the UAE

Lawgical with LYLAW and Tim Elliot

01 August 2023

Tim Elliot:  Welcome to Lawgical, the U.A.E.’s first, and only, regular legal podcast.  My name’s Tim Elliot.  I’m here with the Managing Partner at the Dubai-based legal firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, Ludmila Yamalova.  Always nice to see you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  It’s great to see you too, Tim.

Tim Elliot:  In this episode of Lawgical, it’s all about registering a civil will at ADJD, that is the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.  We’ve already done a podcast on this.  However, this is specifically for Muslims in the U.A.E., a very, very important piece of news, I would go as so far as to say kind of groundbreaking is some ways, Ludmila.  Lots and lots of people making the U.A.E. their home – we’ve talked about this ad infinitum – or at least people spending more time here.  I think this is going to be received very well.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed.  I am certain it will be.  This is why we are doing this podcast.  I think it truly is groundbreaking.  It is essential that we talk about it, and we talk about in now, because we have just – and I’ll perhaps I’ll lead in with this – we have just registered our first Muslim will in the U.A.E.  This is why I wanted to wait and do this podcast until we had actually done it and seen it firsthand, and we can now affirmatively state that, yes, this option for Muslims to register a will that is different from Sharia is possible.  It exists.  We have done it.  We have been there, done it, tried it, so it’s real.

What we are talking about here is registering a civil will by Muslims for Muslims inside the U.A.E.  That option is available in Abu Dhabi under what is called the Abu Dhabi law for Civil Marriages and Its Effects, which is Law #14 of 2021.  As per this law, the governing authority for these kinds of services sits under the umbrella of ADJD, which is the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department or the Abu Dhabi courts, and under it is the specific Abu Dhabi civil family court that oversees all civil marriages and its effects and aspects of this particular law.

While the law that was introduced at the end of 2021 and had gone through some evolution, and the evolution happened actually very quickly.  We have talked about it in previous podcasts.  Initially when the law was introduced at the end of 2021, the law was Civil Marriages for Specifically Non Muslim Expats, and literally just a month later, the law was changed.  Not only the title of the law, but also certain aspects, very important aspects of the law were amended.  That is, it no longer was limited to expats, and that is perhaps because the U.A.E. now has a growing number of non Muslims as part of their citizens.  Obviously, limiting it to expats would have done a bit of an injustice to those U.A.E. nationals who are not Muslims.  The law was amended to take that out.  But more importantly, it was also amended to take out the non Muslim limitation to the law.  In other words, it became Civil Marriages and Its Effects, compared to the previous Civil Marriages for Non Muslim Expats, which was the title.

As the law was evolving, and there were certain provisions and specific terms in the law that gave a lot of us legal minds a lot of hope that the law might eventually be extended to also Muslims of the U.A.E., it wasn’t clear to what extent we would be able to extend it.  At some point, perhaps just over the last year, because remember the law has been in existence about a year and a half, but it became clear, particular through ADJD’s own website or the representations on the website.  For example, now Muslims could actually conduct a civil marriage under this law in ADJD.  In other words, as a Muslim you can opt to have a civil marriage.  That became more or less clear because it was represented on the website, and therefore, since the law is called Civil Marriages and Its Effects, for any Muslim that would ultimately get married under ADJD, you can see how the rest of the aspects of that marriage would be treated and governed by the same law, which is the Civil Marriages and Its Effects, in the event of a divorce, in the event of custody disputes, and equally so in the event of inheritance.  That is for Muslims who choose to get married in ADJD as a civil marriage.

But what about all of those Muslims who are already in the U.A.E., who are already married, or not married, for that matter, who did not opt that law as part of their marriage?  What could they actually avail themselves of in particular for purposes of inheritance of this law?  That was one question that remained a big question mark in our heads because it was not clear.  We watched the space very closely and it seemed that we were heading in that direction, and the authorities were going to open the service specifically also for Muslims, but we were not certain whether that was just us being idealistic and hopeful thinkers or whether this was going to happen.  Voila, now we know it actually does exist, it works, and is available for Muslims.  So, in fact, this same service and the same law has now been extended to all Muslims who want to have a civil will.

Except, there are some limitations, and that is, the service is not available for U.A.E. nationals and I guess it would be U.A.E. nationals who are Muslims.  Muslim U.A.E. citizens are not able to register a will under this law.  Now, for all other Muslims, they can.  This, I have to tell you, is truly groundbreaking.  It’s huge and a big step forward for a lot of Muslims because, once again, during my 15 years of practice here, we have had so many requests.  For example, for let’s say British citizens who even live in England and have assets in the U.A.E., but they are Muslim, of Pakistani descent, Indian descent, could be Lebanese, whatever it may be, but they were born and raised in the UK.  These are real life examples.  It could be Australian citizens as well, but ultimately that are Muslim.  For them, whatever assets, whatever interests they would hold in the U.A.E., those interests were always subject the default law, which was the U.A.E. personal status law, which is based on principles of Sharia.  It is not Sharia law that would apply.  It would be the U.A.E. personal status law that would apply to all Muslims in the U.A.E. and that law was based on principles of Sharia.  Therefore, for Muslims, there was no way to do a will away from Sharia.

Now under Sharia, Muslims could have a will, but it’s a very limited exception to a will and ultimately they can only will one-third of their estate and only to a non heir.  In other words, if it’s your children, let’s say you have three daughters and one son, under Sharia, you cannot give a will to your children because they are your heirs.

One option, let’s say you have a couple, and the man is Muslim and the woman is not, in that case, the woman does not need to convert, so the man can give a will to his wife because she is not an heir under Islam.  That is one example.  But it is very limited in any event, and to register that will is a fairly arduous process.  You have to go through the courts and then you have through the Sharia court and basically have witnesses available and it has to all be verified.  It is fairly complicated and all the other heirs, by the way, have to agree to your will as well.  It’s very complex, and that is why for all of the other Muslim clients we have had over the years who have wanted to have a will for their heirs to be included in their wishes for how the assets were to be distributed after their death.  We have had lots of families with girls, and under Sharia you basically need to look for a male heir for distribution of an inheritance.  That is the governing force.  If you don’t have any boys, it goes down.  You look for a male heir, and if there is no male heir, you look up to the father, and then the father gets a big share.  If there is no father, then you look sideways for brothers.  You can have three daughters, and they would not be your main beneficiaries, not to mention your wife.

Tim Elliot:  I’m following the process, but it’s intricate, isn’t it?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yeah.  For sure, for sure.

Tim Elliot:  It’s complicated.

Ludmila Yamalova:  To Muslims, this makes sense.  They are happy with that kind of distribution, but there are some who, let’s say in those cases where you only have daughters, or if you have two daughters and a son and you want them all to have equal shares, also, for example, for your wife to have your share as well, because under Sharia also the wife gets, I think – again, it depends on circumstances  and is quite complicated – only a fraction of your estate.  There were no options for us to advise them how to do a will.  We have been trying.  For example, through a notary public, but as long as the authorities saw there is a Muslim name, basically you are not allowed to have a will, in short and simple terms.

But what ends up happening in cases like this, and this is why I think this is such a groundbreaking and positive step forward in development for the U.A.E.’s future with regard to particular interests in the U.A.E., what people end up doing is setting up all sorts of complicated structures of ownership through trusts and through companies, and often they involve foreign entities.  In other words, they would set up let’s say a trust or a foundation or a company in British Virgin Islands (BVI) or the Cayman Islands, and that company would then own assets here.  That is the way they were able to at least give some kind of protection in terms of structuring their estate for the future away from Sharia.  But it is very complicated.  It’s expensive.  It’s cumbersome and ultimately it becomes so opaque and convoluted that in many cases it defeats the purpose and becomes prohibitively expensive for many, but it created that whole industry of structuring companies and offshores and a web of various trusts and foundations.  That was a prolific industry in and of itself.  Now you don’t need to do that.

If you under this law, if you are Muslim and you want to have a civil will, you can.  We have now tested it.  We have a civil will, and I can walk you through the process shortly how to do it.  But there is a big question that I want to highlight.  People worry, how does that correspond with the rest of the U.A.E. law?  What is important to remember is that when you register a will under ADJD, ADJD is not just a third party.  It is not just an entity.  It’s a government authority.  It is a judicial authority.  When you have this will registered, it is issued by ADJD and issued by the Abu Dhabi courts.

Tim Elliot:  It’s a legal authority.

Ludmila Yamalova:  It’s a legal authority.  Yes.  Therefore, at the end if you want to enforce in probate, it will be through ADJD, which already has a record of it, so you will ultimately have an ADJD court decision.  In that case, you will be enforcing this decision.  You would not be just enforcing a document.  You will be enforcing a court decision in other emirates in the U.A.E.  Therefore, obviously, to me, based on my practice in the U.A.E., when you have a judgment from the Abu Dhabi courts, you can equally enforce it in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), Fujairah, and any other emirate, as a Dubai decision could be enforced in any other emirate.  This is very much the same process.  The idea here is (1) whatever you register with ADJD becomes an ADJD court document and therefore, even if you don’t have any assets in Abu Dhabi, you can enforce this court decision in other emirates where you have assets, and (2) it is very important to highlight as well that in order to benefit from this service, you don’t need to have any connection to Abu Dhabi.  You don’t need to be an Abu Dhabi resident.  You don’t need to work in Abu Dhabi or live in Abu Dhabi.  You don’t really have to have any kind of connection to Abu Dhabi.  This service is available to anyone, U.A.E. residents and even tourists or nonresidents.

Tim Elliot:  Let’s get onto the process, the documentation, and I guess the other important aspect is cost, Ludmila.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed.  The cost – we have talked about this in other podcasts – is a lot more affordable than other services and options for civil wills that are available in the U.A.E., such as a DIFC will.  The cost here is 950 dirhams.  It’s about $300.  I would say it’s fairly affordable.  Now with regard to the process, it is done entirely online.  You apply through the ADJD website.  You log into through your U.A.E. Pass.  There is a specific service that is under the civil family court e-services, and there is a specific request, or sub-request under that service, called a Request to Authenticate a Civil Will.  Then ADJD also offers a standardized civil will template.  You can use their will and their will, by the way, is already both in Arabic and English, so you don’t have to attest it, so you can use just the ADJD civil will template, which makes it a lot easier and, therefore, even more affordable because you don’t have to pay lawyers or anybody else to draft you a new will.  Because it is already in Arabic and English, you don’t have to pay any kind of translation costs.

But you also have the option of submitting your own template.  If you want to submit your own template, you also need to provide the legal translation because it has to also be in both languages.  If you have to translate it into Arabic, it has to be legally translated, so there is an additional cost there potentially, but obviously the option of having your own template, is also available.

You submit that through the website, and then you will get a confirmation from ADJD that they received your application and they received your will.  They will send you a link of when your appointment date is to basically execute the will.  The link is an online appointment.  They will send you the link.  On the day of your appointment, you will log in through this link.  It is an online appearance.  You will go through the will, confirm your identity, and basically then the authorities will ratify or sign your will afterwards.  It is supposed to be a QR code.  For the one will we have registered so far, it does not yet have the QR code, but the idea basically is that all the wills in the future will be digitally verified.  But in any event, there is basically no physical attendance so there are no physical stamps.  It’s all electronically witnessed, registered, and stored.

Tim Elliot:  It’s pretty straightforward.  For some reason, in my head I’m thinking of something my grandfather would have said, Robert’s your father’s brother, which is another way of saying, Bob’s your uncle, i.e., it’s pretty straightforward.  It happens pretty quick, and it seems to be, I think it’s an old way of saying, it is streamlined once again.

Ludmila Yamalova:  It certainly is.  It’s very streamlined.  It’s easy.  It’s accessible.  By the way, because of that you don’t even need lawyers for this.  You truly can do it all yourself.  ADJD website is available.  It’s accessible to all.  As long as you have your U.A.E. Pass, it’s easy to log in.  By the way, unlike – well, actually it’s changing in all the other courts as well – but Abu Dhabi in particular and the ADJD offers most court services in both languages, at least on the website.  It’s easy to navigate.  You don’t have to have a lawyer, and you don’t need to be an Arabic speaker.  It is more or less in dual languages in terms of just being able to navigate through the website, which serves to apply, and because there is a template that is already available, you truly do not need a lawyer.  I think for all of those Muslims who have been sitting on the fence waiting for this moment to happen, now is the time.  You now have the tools and the roadmap of how to do it.  Because the cost is so much more affordable than the previous options, then I would recommend that all of those who have been thinking about it – or not really thinking about it – now that you know about it, you should definitely seriously consider having one of these wills.

Tim Elliot:  That’s the question I was going to ask you actually.  Whenever we talk about wills, I generally will ask you something like, what’s your advice to somebody considering a will?  If you’re thinking about it, then you clearly think you need to do it.  But I would also usually say to you, who should have a will?

Ludmila Yamalova:  I would say that now that we know that this process exists, and it exists in this form and at this cost, which is 950 dirhams, I would say basically anyone who either (1) obviously has any kind of assets in the U.A.E. and (2) if you work or live in the U.A.E. because most likely, if not now, very soon you will have some sort of an asset.  It could just be a bank account.  It could be a car.  It could be a painting.  Or, you could just have minor children, because in this way you can also include provisions for guardianship of your minor children.  I would say now that this option is so much more accessible then it should be considered by the majority of people because it’s better to have something than nothing.  Even if you have only a bank account, in the event something happens, especially if you are Muslim, let’s say if you’re a man and you die, what happens to the bank account?  Who does it go to?  You still have a wife and you have children, but the wife does not by default get access to your bank account.  Just having this will gives your wife and your children an expedited way to be able to access whatever assets and interest you might have had here in the U.A.E.

Tim Elliot:  That’s another edition of Lawgical, Civil Wills in Abu Dhabi for Muslims.  It’s now possible to register a civil will if you are Muslim at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.  As ever, thanks 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:  Tim, always a pleasure.

Tim Elliot:  You can find us at LYLAW on social media: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn.  Our podcasts are free there at LYLawyers.com.  To have a legal question answered in an episode of Lawgical or to talk to a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, click the Contact button at LYLawyers.com.

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