How Overseas Assets and Relatives Factor into an Estate Plan

When creating your estate plan, it’s important to consider any overseas assets or relatives that may be relevant to your plan.  These factors may require special consideration to make sure they are addressed in the best way possible.

Overseas assets can include a litany of different things, namely bank accounts, real property, or investments in foreign markets.  In general, it’s best to work with an attorney both in the United States and in the foreign jurisdiction where the assets are held to ensure that all of your property is covered by your estate plan. This article will provide a general overview of what needs to be considered when dealing with overseas assets or heirs in your estate plan.

How Should I Handle My Overseas Assets?

The best answer to this question without knowing the specifics of a particular situation is to recommend speaking with an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  When creating your estate plan in the U.S., it is very likely that your attorney is not also licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where you hold the overseas asset.   While some foreign countries will recognize a will drafted in the U.S., not all of them will, and there may still be tax or other implications that should be addressed by someone with the requisite knowledge of that jurisdiction.

Additionally, countries have a vested interest in making sure their laws are properly followed.  A will that is properly executed in the U.S. may not meet the requirements of a proper execution elsewhere.  To ensure that your assets are distributed through a properly crafted legal document, you’ll want to consult with an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.

Are Overseas Assets Treated Differently?

It’s important to know that overseas assets are treated differently than U.S. assets. That’s because, understandably, countries want their laws and procedures to be honored.  Giving authority to a legal document created under the laws of another nation could lead to outcomes that are counterproductive to the laws of that particular country.  

As frustrating as it may be to create a separate estate plan for your overseas assets, it is certainly the most surefire way to distribute those assets according to your wishes.  By consulting with an attorney overseas, you will be able to work with someone who thoroughly understands the relevant laws.  Then you can be sure that you have created an enforceable legal document.

What Happens to Overseas Assets if You Die Without a Will?

Different countries have different inheritance structures for those who die without a will.  The only way to know for sure what would happen to your overseas assets if you do not include them in a valid estate planning document would be to consult with an attorney overseas.  

In this country, even different states have different laws when it comes to  someone dying without a will.  The laws are intended to provide an equitable distribution of assets in the event there is no guidance from the deceased. However, what one state considers “equitable” may not be the same as another state, let alone align with your personal beliefs in this regard.

The differing laws of various jurisdictions greatly muddy the waters for this issue.  There is no clear-cut rule for how an overseas asset would be distributed if someone dies without a will.  For this reason, it’s vital to make sure that you take steps to understand the relevant rules wherever you hold assets, and to plan accordingly.

Overseas Relatives as Heirs

While you can name overseas relatives as heirs in your estate plan, it may be best to take steps to ensure the process of inheriting goes smoothly.  The two steps that can be taken to minimize complications are first, to create a living trust instead of a will, and second, to not choose an overseas relative to serve in a fiduciary role in administering your estate, if possible.

Living trusts do not have to pass through probate in order to distribute the assets.  Wills need to go through this often costly and slow process. In fact, the probate process can last for about a year or more, and assets may be frozen in the meantime. This could certainly complicate the process of inheritance for an overseas relative. In bypassing probate with a living trust, assets are available for transfer much more quickly. It also eliminates any need for an overseas relative to come to the U.S. for a long period of time, if at all.  

Another way to avoid the complications that may come with naming an overseas relative as an heir would be to minimize their role in the administration of your estate.  This means you should avoid naming those relatives to fiduciary positions, such as executor or trustee.  The role of an executor is a very involved one.  This role would likely require your relative to spend some time in the U.S., completing tasks such as probating the will, taking inventory of your assets, and helping to distribute those assets.  Moreover, some jurisdictions will prohibit someone without a presence in the jurisdiction from being named as an executor. By naming the relative as just an heir rather than as an executor as well, you can limit their involvement in the probate process, thereby limiting – or perhaps even eliminating – their need to travel to settle the matter.

Rosenblum Law Can Help

Navigating the issues of overseas assets and relatives is a vital part of a comprehensive estate plan.  Having an estate planning attorney who can properly advise you on these issues is key.  At Rosenblum Law, we are experienced in helping clients find appropriate solutions to their estate planning issues.  While we cannot overstep our jurisdictional boundaries, we can certainly inform you of all potential avenues that you may have to choose from.  To gain clarity on these issues and to choose the best way to handle your overseas affairs, reach out to the estate planning team at Rosenblum Law.  For a free, no obligation consultation, call us at 888-235-9021.

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