By Sean Hird, Director of the DIFC Wills Service Centre, a division of the Dubai International Finance Centre’s Dispute Resolution Authority.
DIFC Wills Service welcomes new visa rules reducing the vulnerability of women following death or divorce
Picture an important new construction taking shape in the UAE.
Although carefully designed and crafted for the future, you can’t see it on the skyline.
But it’s even more valuable than the tower blocks on Sheikh Zayed Road or in downtown Abu Dhabi. And in the past week, another key piece of that structure has been lowered into place.
This critical building block is the UAE’s announcement that widows and female divorcees will now be issued with a year-long visa, requiring no sponsor, on the completion of their divorce or the death of their husband.
For many of the country’s hundreds of thousands of female foreign residents who rely on their husband for a visa, this decision by the UAE Cabinet could prove to be a personal life-changer.
At the DIFC Wills Service Centre, we recognize this as another step in the construction of a forward-thinking and tolerant national legal system, designed to encourage and reassure those who want to make homes or build businesses here.
The decision gives women a year to sort out their financial and family affairs, without the pressure of having to leave the country and abandon, or manage from afar, the assets that they will need for a new life.
Whether caused by death or divorce, this will be a period of trauma and upheaval, and the new law offers much-needed breathing space to achieve a so-called “soft landing” in the next phase of their lives.
Of course, in the event of the partner’s death, the primary legal tool for transferring wealth is a Will.
For those families or business owners who have a DIFC Will, the recent Cabinet decision is particularly good news.
In most cases, we believe a year allows plenty of time to process the Will through the DIFC and Dubai Courts, so establishing probate.
The executor, who has the job of implementing the requirements of the Will, can then press ahead with selling or transferring assets, allowing the widow to move on with her life.
It is only in the past few years that non-Muslims have had the chance to control the distribution of their lifetime wealth in this way.
Family Law in the UAE is governed by Islamic sharia, which shares out assets among family members after death, according to a pre-determined formula. Until 2015, that applied to all residents, Muslim or non-Muslim.
But in that year the DIFC Wills and Probate Registry (now the DIFC Wills Service Centre) was founded, offering foreign non-Muslims the chance to choose who benefited from their estate – just as they would at home.
It was a first in the Middle East, and since then a thoughtful and broad-minded set of laws has increased security and certainty for investors and residents.
In 2015, a new agreement with the Dubai Land Department speeded up the exchange of information about the property assets of people holding DIFC Wills.
Last year Dubai Law No 15 was passed, allowing the Dubai Courts to streamline procedures for processing DIFC Wills. Since then, nearly a dozen DIFC Wills have progressed through probate and the principle of co-operation between the two courts is well-established.
Now, this decision to offer visas to widows and divorcees has clarified the position of female residents, removing their extreme vulnerability in the event of a sudden change in their circumstances.
By offering widows the certainty that the courts will uphold their husband’s choices in a Will, and allowing time for it to happen, the Government has not just offered valuable support at a time of grief but also expanded its tolerant and business-friendly approach to developing new law.
*Sean Hird is Director of the DIFC Wills Service Centre, a division of the Dubai International Finance Centre’s Dispute Resolution Authority.