Dying Intestate Abroad
If you die abroad having left a legal and valid will that has been made in England or Wales, it makes sense that your estate will be distributed according to your will. However, if your will was made in a different country, or if you spend more time in a country other than England or Wales, then the rules of that country can apply to the distribution of the estate.
Each of us has what is known as a domicile; a country of residence that we refer to as home. In most cases this is fairly simple to ascertain; someone born in England who has always lived in England will have England as their domicile. However, if that person bought a property in another country and spends a certain amount of time there, it could be considered that that country becomes their domicile – you can only have one in the eyes of the law.
As more and more of us seek to while out our days in the sunshine, the risk of these complications increases as it is far more challenging to track down beneficiaries to a will when multiple countries are involved. So long as a valid and legal will is in place, that itself can state whether English Law or the law of another country applies. The troubles occur when someone dies without a will; in that circumstance the rule of ‘habitual residence’ applies automatically and is governed by the place in which the deceased was living.
This can be particularly challenging because if someone dies while domiciled abroad with assets or property in England or Wales then it must be decided who is entitled to take a grant of probate to administer the estate. In many cases banks and building societies will only accept an English grant of probate and may not release funds or information until they have seen evidence of this.
The best way to avoid these potential difficulties is to ensure that you make a legal and valid will in any country in which you own immovable assets; i.e. property. A foreign will is considered valid in England and Wales if it complies with the law of the country where the testator was domiciled at the time the will was executed or at the time of their death, or if the testator was habitually resident at the time of death or if the testator was a national at the time of the death.
In cases where there is no valid will there have been some changes to the law: if someone dies intestate but leaves a spouse or civil partner, the estate will pass absolutely to their partner – parents and siblings no longer have any claim to estates worth more than £450,000. If someone dies intestate the surviving spouse or partner continues to receive personal items and the legacy of £250,000, but rather than obtaining a life interest in the remaining half of the estate, they will now receive this absolutely.
The law surrounding these situations can be tremendously complex and it is not advisable to try and deal with it without proper legal advice and support.