Yes, it’s a bit morbid to consider a will (and everything that comes with that), especially in these times where we’re seeing the world in a crazy state. However, it’s important to get ahead of things and make sure that you’ve taken care of your assets, your dependents, and your family.

So the short answer is: Yes. You probably do need a new will, but it’s more difficult than that because those living abroad have their own set of rules.

It’s important that I remind you: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, and I’m not qualified in any way to tell you what to do. You should always seek legal advice for issues related to these important issues!

So let’s start with the real basics:

What is a will?

A will is a legal document that lays out your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children.

When we say “property” here we mean more than you might think:

  • Real property, such as real estate, land, and buildings
  • Cash, including money in checking accounts, savings accounts, and money market accounts, etc.
  • Intangible personal property, such as stocks, bonds, and other forms of business ownership, as well as intellectual property, royalties, patents, and copyrights, etc.
  • Unproductive property, such as valuable objects like cars, artwork, jewelry, and furniture, etc.

If you die without a will, those wishes may not be followed.

Are wills important?

You may have worked this out already but yes, they’re really important, even if you don’t have much.

Without a will, your heirs (family normally) may be forced to spend additional time, money, and emotional energy to settle your affairs after you’re gone, especially if there are multiple countries involved which have different rules.

Don’t leave that to them, sort this out!

What makes a will legal (generally)?

A will for most jurisdictions (it’s different in some countries but they normally include these fundamentals) require a few things:

  1. Be made in writing
  2. It need not be written by the testator
  3. It can be written in any language
  4. It must be signed and dated in the presence of two witnesses

Why “international wills” aren’t always perfect

There are all sorts of different types of wills out there, and you’ll find that the rules for each of those changes per state in the U.S. and per country around the world. At one point, jurisdictions around the world tried to agree on an “International Will” and it fell flat, only being accepted by a handful of countries and not even all the U.S. states.

To be a well-drafted Will, it would normally be at least 5-6 pages and include more than 20 clauses going through the details of what you want. The Will first has to revoke previous Wills and appoint an Executor (and a backup).

It then has to describe the distribution of the estate, with alternate and residual plans, about what I detailed above.

This all sounds easy but different jurisdictions have their own laws as to what can and cannot be done within a Will. For example, whether a spouse or adult child can be disinherited (this actually varies across US States and Canadian Provinces) and how the disposition of real estate is handled. There are also different laws limiting bequests to minors and the definition of a minor.

So your will that was looking perfect in one state or country is now basically void!

What about just creating a new, second will

So you’ve got everything sorted in your home country, why don’t you just walk into a lawyer’s office and ask for another will in your new country?

Well, the problem is something I mentioned above:

The Will first has to revoke previous Wills

Creating a new Will likely erases your old one from existence, leaving you basically in the same pickle you started.

Tax is always a consideration

One very important aspect of creating a will is the tax implications.

If you aren’t properly set up in all your countries, your assets might start dancing around the world and picking up quite a tax bill along the way. Some countries have estate taxes, some don’t, and you might be hit from multiple sides all at once.

Take for example if you die in your new country and pledge everything to family in your home country. Do you know what will happen and how it will be executed?

So what you should really be doing?

Go speak to a lawyer who is familiar with wills for international citizens and expats.

I’m not a lawyer, so it’s always best that you go seek personal legal advice to ensure that you have covered your bases properly, especially if you have dependents and/or property in multiple countries.

I know this might feel like I’ve led you down the garden path but this is important because you’re not like everyone else and you should not just rely on an online form to do this. You need to talk through with someone what you want and what you plan for. If your situation changes (more/less property, or changes to your “family”), you should go right on back to them as well.

If a will is for when I die, what is a “living will”?

While you’re speaking to that lawyer, I would also recommend organizing a living will.

Living wills are all about giving advance directives to medical professionals (and your loved ones) about your end-of-life care, especially if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

Again, these aren’t fun topics, but for the good of your family and loved ones, you should have a plan in place that makes your intentions clear.

Other types of wills

One that you might come across is a “holographic will” which sounds WAY cooler than it really is. A holographic will is one that has been signed, dated, and written by hand, but in the presence of no-one else.

*Insert cool movie scene where they find the will the person wrote hours before being murdered*

Thing is, these are only valid in some cases and up to lots of discretion.

Another one that is becoming more popular is video wills where you sit and record yourself talking through things. Now, this might seem really accurate but many jurisdictions still don’t weigh them like an officially written and witnessed will. It can be used to add value though, which can help everyone interpret what you wanted!

All in all: Make sure you have the core one done perfectly, then you can look into the rest.