How to plan your estate across borders

Individuals with assets located across global borders must exercise significant consideration for successful estate planning. The complexities of managing the future disposition of international assets vary by country, so if you have investments in multiple countries, make sure you have proper estate planning in place to protect your assets. 

Consider legal counsel both domestically and abroad

Local attorneys have no jurisdiction in foreign lands; each country has its laws governing estate planning. Attorneys may need to coordinate with their counterparts across borders to address the details unique to their client’s specific case, and they must do this while satisfying their client’s interests. Though each case will be different, most are generally dependent on:

  • The citizenship of the parties involved
  • Existing agreements between the associated countries
  • Existing domestic and foreign laws governing the assets
  • Locations of the property
  • How the grantor intends to dispose of the assets

If there is a language barrier, translation services will add to the time necessary in preparing your documents. Start planning early for the best outcome.

Disclose everything with your local attorney

Do not make the mistake of believing your foreign assets will be of no interest to your local attorney. It’s important to disclose everything. Foreign property may incur tax penalties upon transfer to U.S. beneficiaries, and the attorney will want to prepare accordingly. The property may also incur taxes in the nation of origin. Some countries have formed estate tax treaties with the United States, reducing the tax burden. These countries include:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Netherlands
  • South Africa

Many other nations have no such agreements in place, making early planning all the more essential. Additionally, citizenship and place of domicile of your beneficiaries will also have varying impacts on your limitations and rights, depending on the countries involved.

Create separate wills for each country, or create an international will

A good practice for estate planning is creating a separate will for each country with foreign assets. A will created in the U.S usually has no authority in foreign countries. In some countries, foreign spouses have no provision under the law to claim property left behind in the absence of a will. Alternatively, you may wish to create an international will that may help alleviate some burdens associated with estate planning across borders.

An international will can be in any language and must enter a confidential registry in the adopting state. It is valid in all participatory nations that have enacted it. These include Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Cyprus, Ecuador, France, Italy, Libya, Niger, Portugal, and Slovenia. The United States signed a corresponding treaty, and some states have enacted this treaty, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, and Virginia. New York State is not currently included in this list as of yet. 

Estate planning across international borders can be a complicated process, but proper planning ensures that your beneficiaries are cared for according to your wishes. 

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