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Does your estate plan include assets in another country?

No matter how long you have been in the United States, a little piece of you belongs to your home country. After all, you probably have childhood memories and perhaps even family who still live in your native town. If you also own property there, you may have questions about how to include that property in your estate plan.

While having a will or other plan is important for even the simplest estate, you probably already know that taking such steps is even more important if your estate has complicated assets. For example, if you own a business or have assets that are difficult to value, you may place your property and your heirs at a greater risk of loss if you don't make an estate plan. Your foreign property is another example of an asset that requires careful attention.

Issues arising with foreign assets

Even if you are careful to complete your will within the laws of New York, your will may not be valid in a foreign country. Just like each state in the U.S. has its own rules to govern the legitimacy of a will, other countries also have their own standards when it comes to acceptable ways to designate an inheritance. Some of the complications you may face with your foreign assets include the following:

  • How many witnesses does the other country require for a valid will?
  • Under what conditions, if at all, does the foreign country accept verbal or handwritten wills?
  • If your will includes a testamentary trust, which is a trust your estate executor creates after probate is complete, will the other country require significant taxes of your heirs?
  • Do the laws of the other country require that your property must pass to someone related by blood?
  • Will your heirs have to pay the often extravagant price to have your will translated from English to the official language of your home country?

It is not out of the question that, after paying for a translation, your beneficiaries will learn that the will is not valid in the other country. One of the best ways to avoid this scenario is to ensure that your will does not contain any elements that would nullify it in your country of origin. An attorney with knowledge of estate and probate laws in both countries can assist you in preparing a plan that will satisfy all governments involved.

If your will does not conform to the laws of the foreign country, one option is to prepare a separate estate plan to handle the assets in that country. An attorney can help you determine the best way to include your overseas property in your estate plan.

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