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International probate. Dealing with estates which include foreign assets.

Administering an estate which involves a cross-border element can raise complicated questions of which law applies to the inheritance of assets, the validity of the Will (if any), the foreign and UK tax treatment of the estate, how you obtain control over the foreign assets and how you ultimately transfer or sell them in due course.

If a friend or family member has died and they owned assets overseas, you will need to consider the following:

  • Where was the deceased domiciled when they died?  This may affect the tax position for the estate and which law governs who inherits the estate and how they inherit.
  • Did the deceased leave a Will (either in the UK or a Will made overseas)?
  • What is the nature of the assets situated in the UK and overseas?

English law differentiates between “moveable” and “immoveable” assets. “Moveable assets” means more than just personal items that you can actually physically move – it includes bank accounts, shares and other assets of this nature.

“Immoveable assets” means real estate, land and property.  If you own an immoveable asset which is situated overseas, the law of that jurisdiction may apply to the inheritance of that asset.  

  • Did the Will appoint executors of the estate?  It is not unusual for Wills made in other jurisdictions to name beneficiaries but not necessarily executors.
  • If the deceased did not have a Will, who are the beneficiaries of the estate? Do forced heirship rules apply to the foreign assets?
  • Where are the beneficiaries situated?  If they live overseas, how will the executors be able to communicate with them going forward?
  • What is the tax position of the estate?  Will there be inheritance tax payable on the deceased’s worldwide assets, or only on the assets situated in the UK?  Will there be tax payable in a different jurisdiction?
  • How easy will it be to transfer or sell the overseas assets?  Will you need advice from a lawyer in that jurisdiction?

Starting the process of administration of foreign assets

As you will appreciate, administering an estate where there is a foreign element can be tricky and more complicated than initially anticipated. It is important that you take advice at the early stages of the estate administration, preferably from a solicitor who has experience of dealing with cross-border estates.

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