An image of a fountain pen with a will in the background. Will and foreign inheritance laws

Will writing and foreign inheritance laws

It’s not something we like to think about, but writing a will is essential.  A will is a legal document that clearly states what should happen to assets when you die.  If you don’t have a will, your country’s inheritance laws will decide what happens to your assets. Chances are, this will not be in line with your wishes. If you are an expat or have assets overseas, there is more to consider when it comes to writing a will.  What inheritance laws apply? Is a UK will valid in other countries? Several factors determine the answer to those questions.  Here, we break down some of the issues that expats need to be aware of when it comes to writing a will.  

Inheritance laws

The legal systems in different countries can be vastly different.  In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, you have freedom of testation when writing a will. Freedom of testation gives you the power to leave your assets to anyone you choose.  Some other countries, including the USA, follow the same system as the UK. However, a large number of jurisdictions implement forced heirship. Forced heirship means you are required, by law, to distribute your estate a certain way when you die. Several popular expat destinations apply forced heirship, including Spain, Japan, Italy, and Argentina. Each country has a different way of implementing forced heirship.  In most Middle Eastern countries, Sharia law governs your estate. Inheritance under Sharia law is usually more favourable for male heirs. Even for expats living in the UAE, the courts will follow Sharia law if there is no will in place. If you are an expat and you do have a will in place, it might not be enough.  Writing a will in the UK is all well and good, but it might not comply with other countries’ inheritance laws. Having a will that doesn’t comply with local laws can cause problems. It’s always a good idea to familiarise yourself with local laws and make sure that your will complies with them.   

Your assets

The type and location of your assets can cause an issue if your will is not compliant with local laws. Writing a will in the UK will follow UK laws for assets based in the country, even if you are living abroad. The trouble is, as an expat, you will inevitably accumulate assets in your new country of residence, such as property or bank accounts. Assets acquired outside of the UK may be subject to local laws. In this case, a UK will wouldn’t be sufficient.   Assets located abroad may not be covered by your UK will Assets located abroad may not be covered by your UK will  

Avoiding local inheritance laws and new rules

To avoid local inheritance laws, you need a will that complies with local laws. The process of legalising your will in another country will depend on the rules of the specific country. In Dubai, expats can choose to have their inheritance governed by their home country’s laws. Specific criteria for Dubai, in particular, needs to be met, which includes:

  • You are a non-Muslim expat
  • You already have a written will
  • The will has been legalised in Dubai

In July 2019, will registrations in Dubai underwent some changes. Wills that are registered in Dubai now cover assets across the UAE and those outside the country. Previously, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Court only accepted wills for assets located in Dubai or Ras al Khaimah. These changes mean expats no longer need multiple wills. Existing wills can also be amended.  

Making sure your will is valid abroad

Writing a will in the UK that complies with another country’s laws does not automatically make it legal abroad. For a will to be accepted by local courts, specific processes are required. The procedure of legalising a will abroad can be complicated, and small mistakes may cause a significant financial loss. At Holborn Assets, our experts have an in-depth understanding of local laws. We have been helping expats for more than 20 years to reach their financial goals and pass their legacy on to their loved ones. If you would like to speak with someone about writing a will, or legalising your will abroad, contact us using the form below.

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