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Protect your assets now with a will.

I'm (relatively) young, (occasionally) fit and (moderately) healthy, so I don't need to make a will just yet.

Do I? While it is hard to think the unthinkable when enjoying the fruits of your expat life in the UAE, a little bit of thought put into drawing up a will now can save your remaining family time, money and sometimes years of wrangling should you die unexpectedly.

The problem has recently been highlighted in a report by the Ministry of Interior which urges all non-Muslims living in the UAE to make a will if they want to avoid time-consuming legalities and ensure that the distribution of assets is done in accordance with their wishes.

Only 10-20 per cent of expat residents in the UAE have taken steps to legally ensure that their assets are distributed according to their home country's laws, says the report.

In the absence of a will, any assets located in the UAE on death will be subject to the UAE law of inheritance, which is based on Shariah law. This differs to laws which many of us are used to as it places restrictions on how assets are distributed when we die and is not unlike forced heirship laws applicable in some European countries.

There are however some subtle differences. Under Shariah law, for example, a wife, can only receive a maximum of one-eighth of the total estate and sons receive more than daughters.

But the first problem for non-Muslim expats in the UAE who die without a will is the potential freezing of assets until the courts can decide which inheritance laws apply and how assets should be distributed. At GWM we have seen first hand the reality of this where dependents have not had access to bank accounts to pay for every day requirements such as food and living expenses. Any further delays can mean rent or hire purchase payments are missed, and access to other financial assets such as life policies and essential paperwork means families lives are virtually left in limbo until the legal process works through. This can be prolonged further if debts are involved.

Financial assets aside, the absence of a will also means the care of any surviving children could also become a matter for the UAE courts.

With the ultimate decision of who takes care of your children taken out of your hands. The beauty of a will is that it can cover all aspects of your life, whether that is physical assets such as property, investments or cash, or who you would like to look after your children until they are of an age when they can look after themselves.

In addition, making a detailed list of your assets to include in a will provides an opportunity to tidy up any loose ends and check on assets you hold elsewhere. This is also a good exercise for tax planning purposes as it can highlight any assets that are now subject to tax because of changes in the tax laws since you first acquired the asset. This offers the prime opportunity to re-arrange your affairs in a more tax friendly manner.

If you have savings plans or assets in other countries then check any will you draw up covers these and is legally recognised in the country in which assets are held. This is particularly important in the case of physical property, which can be subject to forced heirship rules that lay down exactly how the property is distributed among family members.

So while we hope it's many years down the lines, remember we don't plan our death. But we can plan to make sure our death doesn't cause years of financial misery for those left behind.

The writer is CEO, Guardian Wealth Management Qatar

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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