foreign assets part 2

Estate Planning With Foreign Assets Part 2


In a recent blog post, we discussed two aspects of estate planning with foreign assets: taxation and wills. In this post, we will expand on the topic of international property ownership and valid wills. Phelps LaClair is a second generation estate planning law firm serving Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale. We have been drafting bulletproof estate plans for 4 decades. Our experience in foreign and domestic asset protection is founded on a thorough understanding of the complexities of estate laws in the US and abroad. Without this understanding, the validity of wills in foreign jurisdictions can be easily challenged and often overturned.

Valid Wills Abroad

Laws of succession are unique and varied around the world. There are no one-size-fits-all laws when it comes to wills. Every sovereign nation has its own laws regulating the inheritance of property after the death of the owner. Wills that are written and valid in the US may or may not be valid in a foreign country. A will drafted in the US must also conform to the laws of a foreign jurisdiction in order to be valid.

However, there are also countries that do not recognize US wills under any circumstances. This is true even if they are in conformity with the local laws. In addition, there are various nations that will accept most of the provisions of a US will. But they may exclude certain other provisions due to non-conformity with their own laws.

For example, the US has an estate taxation treaty with France. The decedent’s estate will be taxed by France and by the US, less the amount levied by France. But France does not have the same succession laws for a surviving spouse that the US has. In the US, if a person were to die intestate, the surviving spouse would inherit the common property. France does not have the same provision of succession. This means that a surviving spouse would not have an automatic claim to the decedent’s property, as would be usual in the US. The claim would need to be processed through a French probate court, with no guaranteed outcome in favor of the survivor.

The complexities of international law make it incumbent on an estate planner to work closely with an attorney abroad. Specifically, an attorney who has a thorough understanding of the estate laws in their country.

International Wills

One solution to estate planning that involves property owned in a foreign nation is to execute an international will. There was a convention held in 1973 to simplify estate planning across borders. The convention established requirements for a will to be considered valid internationally:


  • The will is for one person only.
  • It has to be in writing.
  • It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and an attorney.
  • All signatures must be at the end of the will.
  • Each page must be numbered and signed by the testator.
  • If the testator cannot sign it, the reason must be given.


The international will also requires a certificate that states that the requirements for drafting and executing an international will have been satisfied. This will is valid in every jurisdiction that has signed the Uniform International Wills Act. This includes 23 states and the District of Columbia in the US.


International Property Ownership

We are becoming more global as a society. International business and personal relationships are much more common. And these days, more people are living and investing abroad. International property ownership brings its own set of complexities to estate planning. PL is positioned to help you with international estate planning. Give us a call for a free, no-obligation consultation. We are here to help you secure your future, wherever your assets are in the world.



Images used under creative commons license (Commerical Use)  11/06/20

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