Does My Will Cover My Assets Overseas?

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It’s quite common for individuals to own assets in multiple countries. Whether it’s a vacation home in Italy, a bank account in the UK, or investments in the US, the question of how these international assets are handled after one’s death can be complex. 

If you’re wondering if your will in Australia adequately covers your assets overseas, we’ll provide you with essential insights below.

Understanding International Estate Planning

It’s important to understand that different countries have different laws regarding wills and inheritance. 

What works in Australia may not necessarily apply in another country. This can lead to significant legal challenges and complications, potentially jeopardising the distribution of your assets if not addressed properly in your estate planning.

The Problem: Jurisdiction and Applicability

Generally, your will can cover your overseas assets, but its effectiveness depends on the laws of the country where the assets are located. Some countries recognise foreign wills as valid, while others do not. 

For example:

  • Common Law Countries (like the UK and the US) usually recognise Australian wills, but local probate may still be necessary.
  • Civil Law Countries (like France and Germany) often have “forced heirship” laws that require a portion of your assets to be left to certain family members, regardless of what your will states.

This means that even if your Australian will mentions your overseas assets, it might not be the final word on how those assets are distributed.

The Solution: Concurrent Wills

One common approach to managing international assets is having multiple wills (known as concurrent wills): one in Australia for your Australian assets and separate wills in each country where you have assets. 

This approach can offer several benefits:

  • Compliance with Local Laws: Each will can be drafted to comply with the local laws of the country where the assets are located.
  • Simplified Probate Process: Having a local will can make the probate process smoother and quicker in that country.
  • Reduced Legal Complexity: It helps to minimise the risk of legal conflicts between different jurisdictions.

However, concurrent wills must be carefully coordinated to avoid conflicts or revocations. It’s important to work with a legal professional who understands the nuances involved in cross-border estate planning and the applicable succession laws in each relevant country.

Consulting with International Estate Planning Experts

Due to the complexities involved, it’s wise to consult with experts in international estate planning, like Bayside Wills and Estates. Professionals specialising in cross-border estate planning can help ensure your estate planning is correctly aligned and legally sound in each jurisdiction.

Practical Steps to Take for International Estate Planning

  1. Inventory Your Assets: List all your assets, both in Australia and overseas.
  2. Seek Expert Advice: Consult with estate planning lawyers with expertise in international estate planning law.
  3. Consider Concurrent  Wills: Discuss the feasibility and structure of having multiple wills with an international estate planning expert.
  4. Take tax advice: While Australia does not have estate taxes, other jurisdictions, such as the US and the UK, do. It is important to understand the impact taxes may have on your estate plan and how to plan around them.
  5. Review Regularly: Update your estate plan regularly, especially as your asset portfolio or international laws change.

Securing Your Future and Your Overseas Assets

While your Australian will can include your overseas assets, ensuring it effectively covers your assets requires careful planning and expert legal guidance. 

By taking the right steps and consulting with the appropriate professionals, you can ensure that your global assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. You can also ensure that your loved ones and intended beneficiaries are not overly burdened by unexpected delays, costs, and hassles of dealing with overseas assets in your estate.

At Bayside Wills and Estates, we are well-equipped and experienced to help you navigate the complexities of international estate planning. Our Principal Lawyer and Director, Elizabeth Michael, is a dual-qualified lawyer with legal qualifications in Australia and the US and has over 30 years of experience advising expat clients.  She is also an accredited specialist in wills and estates and property law by the Law Institute of Victoria. Contact us today to ensure your overseas assets are secured.

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