Making a will for overseas assets

Feb 26 2013 12:00
A Fin24 couple who work abroad are worried that their next of kin in South Africa might lose out on their earnings. They write:

Like so many other South Africans, my wife and I are working overseas to earn a decent salary.

Our earnings are paid into our overseas bank accounts every month and sometimes accumulate to a substantial amount.

What do we need to do to ensure that these funds reach our next of kin/beneficiaries should we die while living and working over here?

Angelique Visser, chairperson of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa responds:

Although it is legally possible to draft one will to deal with worldwide assets, we strongly recommend that you rather draft a will for each country where your assets are held. 

It is also important to make sure that each will stipulates that it deals only with the assets of the country in which it was drafted.

This will ensure that a will in one country does not revoke a will in another, as this can result in the wrong people inheriting if the beneficiaries in the wills are not the same.  

Different countries have different legal systems and by drafting a will in separate countries, you can ensure that each will complies with the laws of the country it was drafted in.

For instance, some countries do not cater for usufructs which is a very well-known concept in South Africa, and some countries have forced inheritance laws which South Africa does not.

Another disadvantage of only drafting one will is that the original will has to be lodged with the Master of the High Court in South Africa in the event of death, whereafter one can apply for court-sealed and certified copies.

The death can only be reported in other countries which are relevant on receipt of these copies. 

This process delays the administration of offshore assets.

On the other hand, if there are separate wills dealing with offshore assets, the process can start immediately after death.

We strongly recommended that you consult a fiduciary practitioner for advice if you have assets in more than one country.

Adds Daryl Coker, partner for wealth advisory services at Citadel:

The distribution of assets (moveable and immovable) in your estate at death should be taken care of via your will.

It would also be prudent to ensure that your beneficiaries and next of kin are aware of any bank accounts and assets you have overseas.

This will aid the executor of the will in sourcing and treating these assets correctly according to your wishes after you die.

 - Fin24

 Do you have a pressing financial question on wills and trusts? Post it on our Money Clinic section and we will get an expert to answer your query.

Disclaimer: Fin24 cannot be held liable for any investment decisions made based on the advice given by independent financial service providers.

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