08/29/2008 11:53 PM
Dubai It's two years since Chris Manders' wife passed away, but her Dubai bank account is still frozen.
When an expatriate dies in the UAE, banks are instructed by the courts to freeze all transactions on the accounts of the deceased, including joint accounts.
Unfreezing the account can only be carried out by order of the Sharia Court once it has received an attested will.
The process aims to safeguard any payments that need to be made after an expatriate has died, such as outstanding loan payments.
Because she had a UK will, it has to be attested for authenticity. However, Manders' says, the process is lengthy, costly and a burden.
"From my side, I just want to see the money transferred to the executors of her will in the UK. She left everything to my son and myself, including some money to cover the funeral. Because the will is not recognised here, we have to go through this lengthy process, and it's expensive," he said.
A UK and other foreign wills have to be attested (authenticated). Only once they have been duly attested as required by UAE laws will the court pass a decision on the wishes of the deceased in the will.
"About 16 documents all have to be stamped. Just to take the attested will to court through an advocate costs a flat fee of Dh20,000 and the expense of translation and typing is around Dh4,500. The money in the account is less than Dh50,000, so it's not worth it," he said.
Manders' continued that his son had to take out a loan after the funeral directors in the UK started legal action to reclaim the funeral expenses.
Because the Dubai bank account is frozen, financial provisions made by the deceased to cover the cost of the funeral could not be retrieved.
"It's really upsetting, because even when she knew she was dying, she made sure that it was going to be as trouble-free as possible; and it's all turned out like this. It's ridiculous," Manders' said.
Currently, UK wills cannot be attested by any other means.
If an expatriate dies in the UAE with no will, decisions on monetary possessions and property can be subject to Sharia.
Steps to take
In the event of death, with no attested will in the UAE, the authorities can automatically freeze the bank account of the deceased.
Mohammad Marria, estate planner at UK company Just Wills, based in Dubai, said: "Unfortunately the situation is that if there's no will and you die, the authorities freeze the bank account. All your liabilities and cash in the bank will go to the law court and they make sure that outstanding debts are cleared. However, the banks can take it at their own pace to find out what these debts are. It could just be a parking ticket or unpaid dues."
Marria continues that this policy also applies to a joint account in the case of a spouse's death.
"Expatriates should keep accounts in Dubai for incomes and expenditures, but also keep a supplementary account offshore or in their home country. This avoids the problem of facing a frozen bank account. In the UK if a spouse dies, half of the joint account is frozen, whereas in the same situation in India, the full account will remain untouched," he said.
Banks in the UAE do offer offshore accounts.
Richard Determeyer, Senior Regional Manager Middle East for HSBC Bank International, said: "In respect of offshore banking in Jersey Channel Islands, a joint account can be opened and maintained with no additional implications to that of the standard probate process through the Royal Courts of Jersey. One spouse will continue to have access to the funds as a joint account holder if the other spouse dies."
Insuring your life
Another issue that should be taken into account in the event of death, is the naming of a beneficiary on any life insurance policy.
Julien Audrerie, marketing manager, AXA Insurance, said: "It is very important to name a beneficiary in your policy, because should you die prematurely, you want to make sure that those dependent on your income will not be burdened financially."
Upon death, a valid beneficiary will need to provide a copy of the death certificate with a completed claim form in order for it to be processed.
If there is no named beneficiary, a court ruling may be needed to determine the status of legal heirs before the claim can be taken forward.
Audrerie said: "Since Sharia is applicable in the UAE, the ruling may take into consideration male heirs (father, brother, son) as having a superior claim to the female heirs (spouse, mother or daughter)."
If you are a property owner in the UAE, it is also advisable to have life insurance cover.
Kalpana Patel, independent financial adviser, said: "Some banks insist on life insurance as mandatory, but some don't ... I still personally advise to take out life insurance."
Expatriates in the UAE can make a UAE will to avoid the problem of attesting a foreign will.
Attesting a foreign will:
- Need to be notarised by a notary public in the UK
- Then notarised by the Embassy of the UAE in the UK, to research if the will is genuine
- Then to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK
- The next stage is confirmation in the foreign office in the UAE
- Documents then need to be translated into Arabic
- A file will be opened in Sharia Court
- An advocate needs to be employed to take the documents to the Sharia Court
- The court will assess the will and then make a judgment on how the funds are to be dispersed.
Making a will
A will can be made by non-Muslim expatriates that reside in the UAE, for possessions that are clarified as "movable assets" (e.g. belongings and cash). However, for possessions known as "immovable assets" (e.g. land or property), there is a problem with making a provision in the will.
According to information received by Gulf News, there is a "grey area" when it comes to making provision for "immovable assets" in the UAE. This problem concerns whether the Personal Status Law (to divide real estate according to the will), or UAE Civil Code applies, which means that Sharia applies.
This means even if you make a will, if it contains the wishes of how you'd like your immovable property to be divided after your death, it is open to interpretation. A will is not necessarily a definitive solution for how property will be divided.
Mohammad Marria at Just Wills, said: "When someone dies, all debts have to be paid regardless of religion. After that the net proceeds will be distributed according to the Will. However if someone (who is Muslim) contests the will under Sharia then the Judge will distribute the share according to Sharia. UAE courts will honour the will subject to the above."
Have you registered a will in the UAE? Do you know anyone who faced problems because they only had a will registered in their home-country? What recourse did they seek? Send us your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org