Without sufficient planning, a nightmare could become reality

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There’s no doubt that here in the UAE, a lot of expat families fall under a very similar financial umbrella – the husband is often the main breadwinner meaning the wife is highly dependent on the income stream he provides. As a wife and mother, take a moment to think about how life might look if for some unfortunate reason your husband was no longer here to support you and your family? Could you sustain the same level of lifestyle you currently enjoy? Could your children stay at their school and would you even be able to continue living in the UAE at all?

This is not a subject many expats want to think about, but the sooner you have provisions in place, the easier you can sleep at night if indeed the worst-case scenario were to happen. Let’s take a look at a case-study to help understand the process:

So you are at home, happily chatting away with friends, the kids are laughing and playing in the garden when the phone rings. You answer and in a heartbeat your world changes forever – your husband has passed away unexpectedly.  Despite the best intentions of friends rallying round and reassuring you that ‘it will be alright’, you will quickly need to establish the reality of your new situation; and if your family is sufficiently protected in the UAE. It may well be that you need a little bit more help and support to navigate your way through the rules in the UAE, that are somewhat different to other countries.

Your friend suggests that you contact a qualified and experienced professional who can walk you through the implications of Sharia Law. You make the call and they explain:

In the United Arab Emirates, Sharia Law is used to disperse assets and deal with the custody of any children. This would be fine if you want to follow Muslim law, but the vast majority of expats don’t, which means you need to make sure you have a will in place to cover this eventuality.

Not having a will in place will mean your late husband’s estate will be dealt with intestate according to Sharia Law. The implications of which are as follows:

  • Under Sharia Law, a woman only receives one eighth of her husband’s assets.
  • Under Sharia Law, any real estate may go to the nearest male relative, not to you or any other beneficiaries.
  • Within one hour of the police being notified of a death, your bank accounts and assets will be frozen.
  • If both you and your spouse die leaving a child behind, the child could be placed in care while the authorities try to find a suitable guardian. If just your husband were to pass away, children do not automatically remain in the care of you, their mother. The creation of a locally recognized will allows you to appoint any guardian, or temporary guardians, to protect against this particular situation.

‘What a nightmare, I need to tell my friends’ is probably what you are thinking. Your professional adviser continues by stating: ‘According to figures issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, 75 British Nationals alone died in the UAE between 1st April 2010 and 31st March 2011, and so this could happen to anyone.’

‘So if my friends have a will from another country, is this OK?’ The response from your adviser: ‘Maybe, but without reviewing their will, it’s difficult to know. This is a simple process however.’

Your adviser goes on to explain the five-step process when reviewing a current will or creating a new one:

  1. Request a will questionnaire by e-mailing [email protected]
  2. Complete and return the questionnaire with a copy, if applicable, of your existing will.
  3. We will contact you to arrange a meeting with you to discuss any variations.
  4. Our fully approved and licenced lawyer will produce an initial draft for approval.
  5. Once approved, the will needs to be signed and executed which our lawyer will guide you through.

Once you have a will in place it is important to check it regularly as your circumstances may change in the coming years.  A common question I am asked is in relation to translation to Arabic. As your will may alter over the years, there is little point in paying for it to be legally translated until the will is required, as every time you make a change you will need to have it re-translated.

Protect your family and assets by contacting your financial adviser to ensure that your will is written in line with Sharia Law.

If this is not the case, take action now and e-mail [email protected] for a free will questionnaire, or to have any questions you may have answered.

(Written by  Neil Stewart, Senior Financial Planner | ACUMA – Independent Financial Advice)

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