I am regularly asked this question by expats living and working around the world who may base themselves in their ‘new country’ for a reasonable period of time.
During this period expats will likely set up local investment accounts, buy property in their ‘new country’ or even start a business. Many of our expat clients also marry partners of a different nationality which makes the question of which country to make a Will further complicated.
Generally, if you are based in somewhere like Singapore, Hong Kong or the UAE or even Europe, local lawyers will only be capable of providing a Will for the country you are currently a resident. They will be very unlikely to have the expertise to advise across multiple jurisdictions especially if you own assets like property and investment accounts in multiple countries.
Each case will also be different depending on your nationalities, where you have assets, your religion and even where you are likely to retire.
Due to expats and global nomads often having assets in multiple jurisdictions, rarely will having one Will be enough. Depending on your situation, you may actually need multiple Wills to take care of your assets and efficiently pass them on to your beneficiaries.
An example of this could be a couple living in Singapore with one partner being a UK passport holder and the other a European passport holder. They own property in the UAE and the UK and also have an apartment in Spain. They also have investments in Singapore as well as assets like a pension and various investments in the UK. In an extreme situation like this and to make life easier for their executor and beneficiaries they may actually benefit from having four Wills.
UAE - It is strongly recommended that anyone who has property in the UAE and is not a Muslim should have a UAE Will. This makes sure their property is quickly passed on to the beneficiary of their choice with minimum fuss.
Singapore - Singapore follows the UK system for law when it comes to Wills making it easy and simple to deal with. A Singapore Will for an expat couple need to only cover assets they have in Singapore. This again simplifies the process of making sure assets in Singapore are handed over smoothly and cost efficiently to beneficiaries.
Spain - The Spanish legal system is complex and bureaucratic and often more expensive than other countries. It would however be recommended in this instance to have a Spanish Will to cover the property the couple own and maybe any bank accounts based in Spain. Again, the Will needs to clearly state that it only deals with assets based in Spain.
UK - The UK has an easy system with regard to Wills and it is cost effective and quick to set up. In this instance the UK Will could cover all assets in the UK and if in this instance the couple had Wills in other countries this needs to be mentioned and it needs to be stated that again this Will only deals with UK assets.
The above would seem an extreme example of where clients may require four Wills. The reality is that with people becoming more mobile both for work and investments, the above situation is not unusual. We often find clients require two or three Wills and this situation is becoming the norm for international clients.
As mentioned above it is very difficult to find a company who can handle this type of complexity and trusting a company based in one jurisdiction which offers a single solution is rarely likely to be the best solution.
This kind of solution will lead to more costs and complications when the settlor of the Will dies and potentially more estate taxes paid in different countries.
Working with a ‘holistic planner’ who understands the international market and the complexities of having assets in different countries and partners from different nationalities and even religions. Your provider needs to be able to partner with companies based in different jurisdictions to find the optimum solution based on the client needs.
Rarely do Wills provide all the answers to a client's needs with regard to passing on their estate quickly and easily and with the minimum estate taxes and lawyer fees.
Life Insurance in a trust
This will often be the solution where the majority of the assets that the clients hold is not easily liquidated like property or companies. A life Insurance policy in trust avoids estate duties and the benefits are paid out quickly and without the need for probate. These types of policies can be used to pay estate taxes, provide a lump sum for certain beneficiaries or even an income for children.
In more complex cases where families come from different nationalities or retire in a country which is not where they have their passport a trust maybe the best solution. Trusts can also be used in more complex situations where the client [settlor of the trust] wants to make sure that his or her wishes are carried on after his/her death.
For certain international people as mentioned in this article, making a Will can be complicated and require expert help. This is not something you can ‘Google’ to get the answers for and choosing a ‘local lawyer’ based in the country where you are currently residing is also very unlikely to be the best solution.
As mentioned, although Wills maybe part of the answer the solution could also involve Life Insurance and Trusts.
The Author of this article has worked in estate planning for over three decades and has lived and worked in the Middle east, UK, Europe and Asia. He is also a highly qualified financial practitioner and a member of many financial organizations including STEP. STEP is the ‘Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners’ and is a global organization recognized for its knowledge and skills in ‘cross border advice and estate planning.