Estate Planning for US Expatriates

Estate Planning for US Expatriates

Expats must carefully evaluate particular circumstances of residing in another country while creating an estate plan. Here are a few areas to consider

Select an Attorney-in-Fact to Manage Your US Assets

If you still have assets in the United States, one of the first things you should do is to appoint an “attorney-in-fact” with a power of attorney. An attorney-in-fact (sometimes known as a “agent”) is someone you choose to make financial choices and/or decisions on your behalf while you are away. This person should ideally be physically close to your assets in order to assist you in managing them from overseas. You can delegate authority to your agent to do the following:

  • pay your bills, such as your homeowner’s insurance or registration for your vehicle
  • handle bank transactions
  • sell larger assets like your home or car
  • deal with creditors
  • apply for loans
  • complete tax returns and pay taxes, and
  • manage investments.


Specific instructions to the person you chose for this function may be included in your power of attorney. You may, for example, ask your agent to act on your behalf a in conducting financial transactions , generate accounts for you, or consult with you before making critical choices financial related decisions. Your agent is legally obligated to act in accordance with your instructions and in your best interests. So you’ll still have control over your finances, but through your agent.

Make Health Care Directives


Because the regulations that govern health care change from country to country, create health care directives in both your home country and your new country to ensure you receive the medical care you need. You can name an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf in your health care directive, and you can also explain the type of medical care you prefer (or don’t) if youbecome incapacitated. Health care directives are usually available at a local medical facilities, but if you can’t find one, contact a local attorney to prepare and execute such forms for you.

Name your agent as your emergency contact and keep that person’s contact information in places where it can be found in case of emergency, such as your purse or wallet, an emergency contact card, your day planner, your cellphone, and other documents you carry with you or in your vehicle. Give your primary health care provider the name and contact information for your emergency contact, as well as a copy of your health care directive.

Prepay Burial and Funeral Expenses


You may have preferences about where you want your funeral and burial to take place. You may elect to make your new home country your permanent residence, or you may decide to return to the United States. Instead of delegating the duty to someone who may be in another country, consider making these arrangements during your lifetime. You can either make direct arrangements with the service providers or purchase a coverage specifically for this reason. Share this information with your will’s executor, who will most likely carry out your final arrangements after your death.


Create a Will that’s a Fit for an Expat


Estate planning is usually more difficult for foreigners who own property in more than one country.

The type of will you create may be determined by the location of your property. If you solely own property in the United States, you can utilize a will created for that purpose. If you exclusively own property in your new home country, you must have a will that is valid there. If you own property in more than one country, you should think about more sophisticated solutions such as an international will or multiple wills. In that situation, you may require the services of one or more attorneys.

International Will

An international will is intended to be used in more than one country. Countries that have signed the Washington Convention treat international wills as legally binding.: The following are some of the countries who treat international wills as binding:

  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Canada
  • France
  • Iran
  • Laos
  • Italy
  • Libya
  • Portugal
  • Russian Federation
  • United Kingdom
  • United States (however, for the will to be valid, the state where it is probated must have signed the Washington Convention)

Some estate planning lawyers in the United States are familiar with these wills, so you may be able to have this form of will prepared by a local attorney without having to learn about the laws of your new home country or deal with legal terms.


Multi-Jurisdiction Will

A multi-jurisdiction wills should cover assets in multiple jurisdictions. This type of will must be carefully drafted so that the wording does not raise complications in either country, therefore seek the advice of an attorney who has experience creating wills in both countries. An attorney in one country may occasionally collaborate with an attorney in another country to ensure that the will appropriately consider the laws in both countries.


Get Advice on Tax Issues

Even if you are not liable to federal estate taxes in the United States (which impact only the super wealthy), you may be subject to estate taxes in your new country since some countries base estate taxes on your domicile (where you now live) rather than your former country of residence. To learn about your potential tax liability, consult with a financial adviser or a tax consultant. 

Consider a Trust

Because an asset that passes through a trust does not have to go through probate, putting your asset in a living trust may help mitigate estate planning risks. Even for persons who do not own assets in multiple countries, the probate process can be intricate, time-consuming, and costly.

You can also utilize a living trust to specify what should happen to your asset if you die or become incapacitated while living abroad. Additionally, utilizing a trust may help you avoid some of the challenging laws in your home country. Some countries, for example, have mandatory heirship rules that require you to divide your estate among specified family members in percentages. You may be able to avoid these regulations if someone you trust owns your  assets (rather than you).

Trust laws differ country to country, and each trust document will be based on the laws of the country in question. So, if you own assets in the United States, create a trust under the laws of the state where the asset is located. Speak to an attorney in your new home country about establishing a trust there, or get assistance from an experienced international attorney about establishing an international trust that covers assets in more than one country.