Basics of International Wills

Recently, we have written on the intricacies of estate planning when an individual owns foreign property. If you own international property or have other estate assets that span two or more countries, one of the most effective ways to ensure that your estate is properly administered according to your wishes is to make sure that you have an internationally recognized Last Will and Testament.

Understanding International Wills

For the most part, Wills are essentially the same the world over. In jurisdictions that allow recognition of a Will, such documents typically need to meet the same requirements:

  1.     The documents likely need to be in writing;
  2.     The documents need to unambiguously describe your assets;
  3.     The documents need to describe how you wish your assets to be distributed; and
  4.     The documents need to be signed by two or more witnesses.

While these seem pretty straightforward, it is important to remember that every jurisdiction has different caveats when it comes to Wills. For individuals that hold assets abroad, it is especially important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to make sure your Will can stand up to the legal requirements not only of the United States, but also those of the foreign nation in which you hold assets.

International Recognition

In order to address the differences between jurisdictions, including different requirements within a particular nation, representatives from several countries around the world came together and formed the Convention Providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will. The various articles of the document that came out of this convention describe in detail how a Will must be formed and executed in order to satisfy agreed upon international requirements for the administration of an individual’s Will in each country that has signed onto it. In other words, your Will must comply with this convention if it is to be effective in any and/or all of the jurisdictions that have accepted the convention. To date, this includes 21 different nations around the world. However, simply creating a Will that is valid in one jurisdiction will not automatically make it valid in every jurisdiction that has agreed to the terms of the convention unless the terms of the convention are adhered to properly, which may not otherwise be necessary were you to only have assets in the United States.

Of course, that is not to say that your Will would not be effective if you owned property or held assets in a foreign country that had not entered into the convention. In such cases, it is especially important for you to understand the laws governing estate planning in the foreign country in which your assets lie. An experienced estate planning attorney can often help you find solid legal guidance on this topic in foreign countries, and can usually work with you to adapt your Will so that it meets the requirements of the foreign country as well as those within the United States. By working with various legal experts on drafting an international Will, you can help ensure that your wishes are adhered to when it comes to the distribution of your estate upon your death.

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