How to bequeath Bitcoin and other crypto currencies in the UAE
The UAE is governed by the UAE Federal Laws that give – so far – very little indication about the legal classification of bitcoins and other crypto currencies.
There is, however, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) that has its own probate court. The DIFC is a Federal Free Zone and applies the Laws of England and Wales. The Laws of England and Wales classify crypto currencies as a ‘property’ so that cryptocurrencies can be held on trust (e.g. by a financial institution) for the benefit of accountholders (see: http://www.nzlii.org/nz/cases/NZHC/2020/728.html).
Having said this, you can register a last will at the DIFC probate court under the Laws of England and Wales if (1) you have a residency in the UAE or (2) you have assets in the UAE. In either cases, you need to be at least 21 years old and a non-Muslim.
If you have a residency in the UAE, a DIFC-Will can be drafted in a way that it covers all your assets worldwide. While doing so, one has to consider the (inheritance) laws of the jurisdiction(s) where your assets are located.
A residency in the UAE can be demonstrated by a UAE Visa and a physical address.
If it comes to crypto currencies, it is difficult to prove that the crypto currencies are in the UAE as crypto currencies are in the blockchain and as such not within any particular jurisdiction. If, however, the crypto currencies are held on trust by a financial institution operating in the UAE, the crypto currencies should be considered as an asset located in the UAE. The mere fact that a cold wallet, i.e. a hard ware stick, is located in the UAE might also create an asset in the UAE.
The Laws of England & Wales consider Bitcoin and other crypto assets as a ‘property’ (see: The UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (‘UKJT) Legal Statement on crypto assets and smart contracts’). Consequently Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can be bequeathed by a DIFC-Will.
In the DIFC-Will, however, the crypto currencies have to be mentioned in a manner that it is clear which crypto currencies shall be covered by the Will. In this context, it is important to clarify whether you hold your crypto currencies in a cold wallet or a hot wallet. For the purpose of inheritance, it would be beneficial, if the crypto assets will be held in a cold wallet (preferable a hardware rather than a paper wallet) or on trust by a financial institution.
It is worthwhile to mention that according to Part 3 Rule 10 (4) the DIFC Wills and Probate Rules (‘WPR Rules’) that the Director or an Authorized Officer shall have a discretion to register a document including on grounds of confidentiality or sensitivity of information (such as sealed documents or documents containing confidential passwords and personal codes). Having said this, the Testator may register together with his Will a sealed document containing his ‘private key’ that allows to withdraw crypto currencies from public key/address.
Finally, is advisable not only to mention the wallet type, but also the crypto assets the wallet is giving access to, e.g. ‘the Trezor Model T hardware wallet holding/giving access to 50 Bitcoins’. This provision can be important for the beneficiaries for two reasons: (1) the inheritance of crypto currencies might be subject to inheritance tax (depending on the residency of the testator and beneficiaries) and (2) in case the beneficiary wants to convert the crypto currencies to fiat money, e.g. to US-$. In this case, the (converting) bank will ask for a disclosure regarding the ‘source of wealth’. Considering the permanently increasing compliance requirements of financial institutions, clear provisions in the Last Will should make the compliance procedure at least easier.