Foreign assets – should I make another Will abroad?

Sep 19, 2018

If you have assets outside of England and Wales, we would normally suggest making a Will in the jurisdiction where your assets are based.

Whilst our specialist solicitors have excellent knowledge of the tax and succession laws here in England and Wales, we cannot give advice on how the law will be applied in different jurisdictions.

The main reason for seeking advice abroad is that the Lawyer based in the jurisdiction of your assets will be able to provide you with the appropriate tax advice and succession laws which may affect your wishes. Each country has different laws and even different regions within a country can be different.  For example, each of Switzerland’s 26 Cantons has different laws!

One of the biggest issues for clients who have assets abroad is the forced heirship rules which are common in mainland European countries. This can affect the terms of your English Will and the inheritance tax position of your estate.

Another issue to consider is whether your English Will will be recognised in another jurisdiction.  Broadly speaking, Commonwealth countries will recognise an English Will and in theory, EU countries should as well.  However in practice, when you are dealing with organisations that are not familiar with cross border estates, they may refuse to recognise an English Will as they do not understand the process. 

A common example is when dealing with a local notary in mainland Europe who is not familiar with the latest EU law. In the UK, executors are responsible for collecting the assets in the estates, where as in Europe, it is the beneficiaries. This is because forced heirship does not require executors as the beneficiaries are set and so some notaries are not familiar with the concept of an executor and will therefore refuse to deal with them. This can cause complications in the UK if they will only deal with the beneficiaries and they are minors; or there is a dispute between the beneficiaries.

Having one Will is easier to put in place than making multiple Wills, especially if you do not frequently visit the jurisdiction where your foreign asset is based. If this is the case, we can advise you on alternatives to make sure your wishes are carried out.

If you need to make a Will aboard we are always happy to recommend a solicitor through our connections with law firms globally. If you would like to review your Will and discuss estate planning please contact our Private Client department to arrange an appointment.  

By Alex Mulroe 

Partner, Private Client 
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