When someone dies leaving behind foreign assets, it can make the administration of their estate more complicated. If you are overseeing the administration of an estate with both assets in England or Wales and assets abroad (known as a cross-border estate) you might be wondering which country’s laws apply to the foreign assets and how best to deal with them. This is a complex topic, and we would highly recommend seeking personalised legal advice, but this article will give you an introduction.
A cross-border estate is one that contains assets in England and/or Wales, and assets in another country not under British jurisdiction. Cross-border estates are becoming increasingly common as more people begin working abroad, investing in holiday homes and opening foreign bank accounts.
The laws surrounding probate vary from country to country, and there is no universal law governing the administration of assets after death. Every cross-border estate will have a unique set of circumstances as the laws regarding foreign assets depend on the asset holder (for example, the foreign bank that the deceased held accounts with). As a result, cross-border estates can be exceedingly complicated to deal with on your own. It is recommended that you seek legal advice before embarking on estate administration for a cross-border estate.
There are several questions that you should find the answer to before you begin the probate process when dealing with a cross-border estate.
First, where was the deceased domiciled when they died? A domicile is a permanent residency, and it is usually the place where they were living when they died, or where they intended to spend the rest of their life. This is not always the same country that the deceased was born in and it might not be the same as their nationality. The deceased’s domicile affects the tax position of their estate, so it is an important question that should be answered before you begin to handle probate and Inheritance Tax payments.
Second, did the deceased leave a Will? The Will, if there is one, is the most important part of the probate process and it might contain information and instructions regarding the foreign assets. You should locate the Will as soon as possible by searching the deceased’s property or getting in touch with their Solicitor or the organisation that they wrote it with.
Third, are the foreign assets moveable or immoveable? A moveable asset is one that can be transferred from one country to another, such as money in a bank account. An immoveable asset is one that must remain in the foreign country, such as land or property. Many countries distinguish between assets on this basis by dictating that moveable assets may be dealt with by the laws of the deceased’s domicile, while immoveable assets should be dealt with by the laws of the country in which they are located.
This is not an exhaustive list of questions that you will have to consider. In many countries there are unique laws governing probate and foreign assets. The most sensible option would be to employ a legal professional in the country where the assets are located for advice.
This first thing you should do before applying for probate is get a date of death valuation for each asset as soon as possible. This needs to be done as part of the probate process for tax purposes, so you should get started on this immediately. You can find this information out by contacting the asset holder (such as the bank that your loved one held accounts with) and notifying them of the death. When they give you a valuation and agree to freeze your loved one’s accounts, they should give you correct, up-to-date information on how to deal with this asset.
In some circumstance, you will not need a grant of probate to deal with foreign assets. Whether or not probate is required depends on the country the asset is in, the value of the asset, and your loved one’s individual circumstances. Some countries will accept a British grant of probate while others will require you to obtain a grant of probate from their government, and others might not require a grant of probate at all.
Before you get started with applying for a grant of probate and attempting to administer the estate on your own, you should thoroughly consider hiring a legal professional not only in the UK but also in the foreign country where the assets are located. This will help you to cover all bases so that you don’t make any mistakes that you could be held personally financially liable for. At Kwil, we can help you to contact foreign organisations regarding probate and we can help you to obtain your grant of probate here in the UK. If you feel you need help with the entire estate administration process, we also offer a full service in which we will take care of everything for you for a fixed fee with no hidden costs.