What You Need to Know When Writing an Expat Will
Last week we bombarded you with five strong reasons as to why you need an expat will. If you missed the article you can find it here. Once you have accepted that you do need to formally record your wishes as to what happens to your dependents and estate in the event of your death, you need to commence the process of actually making your statement of intent.
Wills need not be complicated documents that involve weeks of sorting through title deeds and complex finances. To help, we have created a simple guide to writing an expat will that you can use a framework to help you through the process.
1) Consider the people involved
There are three groups of people that you will need to take into account when writing your will:
- Your dependents: The individuals who rely on you for financial support and everyday protection.
- Your beneficiaries: The people who you wish to leave your assets to in the event of your death.
- Your executors: The individuals who you trust to administer your will and ensure that your wishes are carried out in full.
It’s worth taking a look at each of these groups of people in more detail in order to identify the issues that you need to take into consideration when drafting your expat will.
Your dependents are literally anyone who you perceive relies on you for support and/or security. Typical dependents may be your children, parents, spouse, elderly relatives or perhaps even your dog. When drafting your will you should start by making a list of all the people who you are personally and/or financially responsible for. You should then review each person in turn and consider what the implications of your death would be for them and what steps you can take within your will to address these. For example, if you have children, you will need to consider who will look after them and how that individual can financially support them. The aim of the will is to ensure that your dependents are looked after if the worst is to happen.
When drafting an expat will you will also need to consider how local laws may impact your will and how your dependents are treated in the event of your death.
A beneficiary is anyone who you wish to leave money or assets to in the event of your death. Beneficiaries can be relatives, friends, charities or any other organization. The clearer you are in your will about the ways in which you wish your estate to be split, the better, as this will help to avoid legal contest at a later date. Don’t assume that your assets will be automatically assigned to your spouse in the event of your death. Different countries have different laws pertaining to what happens to an individual’s estate if they die intestate and that’s precisely why you need a robust will if you are living overseas as an expatriate.
You will need to choose the executors of your will extremely carefully as these individuals will ultimately be held responsible for ensuring that your wishes are followed to the letter. The task of executing an individual’s will can be time extensive and difficult and for this reason it is usually best to discuss the role with your intended choices in advance of formally assigning them the role within your will.
2) Identify the items that form your estate
Your estate is all your assets in entirety. It is very easy to overlook assets when planning your will and for this reason, you need to take your time and revisit the items that are included as assets on a regular basis. Some of the things you own that may be considered as assets and therefore need to be included in your will are the following:
- Money in bank accounts
- Stocks, shares, and bonds
- Investment accounts
- Life insurance
- Cars and vehicles
- Household contents
- Pension benefits
In addition to looking at any assets you hold, you will also need to bear in mind any debts. All debts will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. If you are overseas at the time of your death you may also need to consider the cost of repatriating your body and belongings. Remember to include loans, debts, and other obligations when recording all the items that make up your estate.
3) Make the decisions
Once you have decided what assets you have to leave and the people who you wish to include, you need to make the important decisions about who will get what. Your dependents should be your priority so it’s important that you start with them and ensure that they will be adequately looked after in the event of your death.
As well as considering how each of your assets will be allocated you will also need to make important decisions about who will take care of your children or any other dependents and pets who rely on you. If you’re married it is important that both you and your partner select the guardians for any dependents carefully and ensure that both of your wills contain the same instructions.
Otherwise, if you were to both die in an unfortunate accident the situation could become very complicated. When allocating guardians for your children you should speak to all parties involved. Although many people will try and shy away from difficult discussions about these types of matters it is important that you allocate guardians who are willing and able to do the job. Don’t forget to also consider who will manage your dependents assets for them if they are still minors as well as helping to cover the cost of raising your children in your absence.
4) Work with lawyers in both your home and host country to formalize your will
Once you know what you have to leave and who you want to leave it to, you should write a rough outline of your will before working with lawyers. As an expatriate it is important that you seek legal advice at both home and in your host nation as you will need to ensure that you draft a will according to the laws and requirements of both locations.
Never assume that just because you have written your wishes down they will be honored. An extended period of time in one country may determine how your assets are split and you need to ensure that you take the legal steps to avoid any complications or undesired outcomes.
Finally, remember that the people who you wish to leave assets to in your will and the value and nature of your assets may be subject to change at any point. For example, you may divorce and wish to remove your spouse from your will, you may purchase addition property or you may have children, etc. It’s therefore important that you revisit your will on a regular basis in order to ensure that it continues to reflect your wishes and ensures that everyone who is important in your life is covered.