Posted on: 28th March 2016 in Retirement Planning
If you are an expat or have assets overseas, you may be wondering what laws apply to them when you die.
For example, is your UK will valid in other countries? Should you have a will for each country you have assets?
These are all things you need to think about, and there is no simple answer. It all depends on your situation, but there are some general points to consider.
In this article, we will look at some of the key will writing considerations for expats. We will also look at the steps you can take to ensure your will complies with laws and regulations.
Different countries have vastly different legal systems. While the concept of a will is present in most countries’ succession laws, rules and mechanisms vary.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland (not Scotland), you have freedom of testation. What this means is you can pass your assets to virtually anybody without restrictions or limitations.
The same applies in a few other countries. However, the vast majority of jurisdictions have forced heirship.
Forced heirship means you are required by law to pass a portion (e.g. one third or one half) of your assets to so-called protected heirs. This can include your spouse, children or other relatives.
Forced heirship applies in the majority of popular expat destinations, including Spain and Portugal. It also applies in most of the Middle East, where Islamic Law governs inheritance. Islamic Law generally favours male beneficiaries over females and Muslims over non-Muslims.
In light of the above, it is clear that a valid will in the UK may be violating forced heirship or other rules in another country. You may encounter difficulties if you wish to pass your assets to persons outside your family or if your family situation is more complicated.
The validity of a UK will overseas also depends on the type and location of your assets.
In general, even when you are resident abroad, your UK will often still applies to your assets located in the UK. However, most expats tend to acquire assets in their new country of residence.
These are particularly sensitive, and a UK will may be insufficient to have your wishes accepted by local courts.
Some countries, particularly those with a high number of foreign professionals, offer a solution.
Services are in place that allows expats to legalise their will to comply with local laws. Doing so can help avoid local succession laws depending on the country.
For example, authorities in Dubai understand that most foreigners don’t want their inheritance to be governed by Islamic Law.
With this in mind, they allow expats to choose to have their will governed by the laws of their home country. Of course, specific criteria must be met. You must be a non-Muslim with a written will that has been legalised in Dubai.
You need to be aware that local courts do not automatically accept a British will, even if it complies with the country’s laws.
Unfortunately, the local validity of a UK will, and the procedures of legalisation are often complicated. The process is often not well understood and subject to individual circumstances. Furthermore, even small mistakes or omissions may cause a big financial loss.
Even when the courts eventually accept your will, there may be long delays. This can cause further stress and liquidity issues to the family. For this reason, it is essential to always seek advice from a professional with experience with both local and British law.
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