How to make a Will as an expat - United Advisers Marine

15th Sep 2021

How to make a Will as an expat

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Wills for expats can be tricky and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

The law in your country of residence may not apply to you and your estate, so what happens after death will depend on where you die.

For example, if you die in England but have property or assets in France then French law applies to those assets. If you die in Germany but own real estate in Italy, then Italian law would apply. And so on. 

The same goes for any other countries you might reside in. 

However, the laws that govern the devolution of your moveable assets (cash or personal items) are different; for English and Welsh domiciled expats, for example, the law that governs this would be the law of England and Wales. 

So expats who own assets in more than one jurisdiction may find they require more than one Will. In short, it’s a good idea to make sure you know which laws apply before making a Will.

Why are Wills for expats important?

Wills for expats

If you don’t make a Will then you’ll die ‘intestate’ which means that your estate (money, property and possessions) will be divided in accordance with the rules of ‘intestacy’.

This means that none of your loved ones has any say over those assets, instead the courts decide what happens, which can delay the full transfer of your estate for months, even years. In addition, legal fees are paid out of the estate, which can often make things very expensive.

It is estimated that around 54% of adults don’t have a will. A lot of the time, people haven’t got round to making one yet, or think that they don’t actually need one. But having a Will in place is a key part of any financial plan.

Where to start

A good place to start is to write a list of the assets that make up your estate. Typically wills for expats would include:

  • Your home and other properties
  • Savings and investments
  • Insurance policies
  • Pension funds
  • Cars
  • Jewellery, antiques and other personal belongings
  • Furniture and other household items

Other things to consider are any debts you may have:

  • Mortgages
  • Credit card balances
  • Loans
  • Equity release

It’s a good idea to review these assets regularly and keep an up-to-date record of their value as this can change over time.

The next step would be to decide how you’d like to divide your estate. Think about:

  • Who you’d like to be included
  • How much you’d like each person to receive
  • Whether they get equal shares
  • When you’d like it to be distributed
  • Are there any tax implications?

You might also want to create trusts for your children. These allow you to set aside funds specifically for them at certain ages. The trust documents specify how these funds are used and who gets access to them.

yacht crew guide to savings

In addition, you can name guardianship over minor children to ensure that someone responsible takes care of them until they turn 18 years old.

If you don’t want to leave everything to family members then you could consider leaving some of your wealth to charity instead, which would help to create a positive legacy for the future. It can also reduce the amount of tax paid by the rest of your estate.

You could also set up a trust fund with some friends or relatives to help those less fortunate than yourself. 

Or perhaps you prefer to donate your body to science? Whatever works for you!

You should always consult a lawyer or solicitor to ensure your Will is legally sound. In addition, make sure once you’ve made your Will, you keep it up to date. 

You would be amazed how many people forget to do that. It’s particularly important to update your Will if, for instance, you divorce, or a family member named in your Will should die, or you move to a new house, or (perhaps most importantly) new grandchildren come along.

Alongside keeping an up-to-date will, it’s important that you keep it somewhere safe and let your family know that you’ve done it and know where to find it.

They need to know how to contact your solicitor if that’s where it is stored, particularly if he or she is your executor responsible for producing and implementing your Will. It also helps to record the details of your investments, and which companies are handling them. 

One final thing to remember is that Wills for expats is only one part of estate planning strategy. The best way to make sure everything goes smoothly after you die is by having a well thought out estate plan, which should include an up-to-date Will, a Power of Attorney who is someone who you appoint to make financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to, and documentation showing ownership of any property.

One way of being completely certain you have all this correctly is to speak to a financial adviser. And we’re here to help.

This communication is not intended to constitute, and should not be construed as, investment advice, investment recommendations or investment research. You should seek advice from a professional adviser before embarking on any financial planning activity.



David Cooper