Planning an Estate When You Own Property in a Foreign Country

The estate planning process can be difficult, especially when a testator has a number of different types of assets or multiple competing relatives. The process can become even more confusing, however, when a testator owns real property in a foreign country, as not all countries recognize U.S. wills. To ensure that all of your property is included in your will or trust, it is crucial to contact an experienced estate planning attorney who can help protect your interests.

Drafting a Supplemental Will

One of the best ways to ensure that property on international soil is distributed in accordance with the owner’s wishes is to create a will in the country where the property is owned. However, testators who take this step must be careful to ensure that the terms of a domiciliary will do not revoke the terms of the international will. Although drafting a supplemental will in a foreign jurisdiction that only covers the immovable property owned in that jurisdiction can help avoid revocation, the testator will still need to include a section referencing the supplemental will in the domiciliary will, as well as a reference to the domiciliary will in the international will to ensure that there is no confusion.

Creating an International Will

According to the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT), it is possible to create an international will that is recognized across multiple jurisdictions, although certain requirements must be met, including that:

  • The will does not dispose of the assets of more than one person;
  • The document is in writing;
  • The will is signed in the presence of two witnesses and is signed by two witnesses as well as an attorney;
  • The signatures are included at the end of the will;
  • Each page is numbered and signed by the testator;
  • If the testator is unable to sign the document, the reason is noted in the will; and
  • The will is accompanied by an attached and signed certificate attesting that the necessary requirements and procedures have been fulfilled.

If it satisfies the requirements, an international will is considered valid in any jurisdiction that has signed or enacted the Washington Convention, which includes Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom among others.

Call an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney Today

Many testators assume that if they include property owned overseas in their current will, that the document will automatically be valid. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as other countries have their own rules regarding how estates can be distributed. For this reason, it is essential for those who own property in another country to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney who can ensure that all of a testator’s property is distributed as he or she desires. If you live in Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Northbrook, Skokie, or the greater Chicago area and have questions about bequeathing your international holdings, feel free to contact Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. Attorneys at Law to schedule a case evaluation with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney who can address your concerns.

Updated as of July 2019
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