International Wills

This is the age of the global village. And the events of 2016 with regard to UK membership of the European Union mean that we are examining our place in the world very carefully.

An Englishman’s home is his castle

It is doubtful whether that was ever true in any real sense, and it is even more doubtful now. In these days of:

  • second homes in the Algarve,
  • timeshares in Provence,
  • brothers and sisters who have emigrated to New Zealand or Australia,
  • property we bought when we worked in Dubai,
  • numbered Swiss bank accounts (well, maybe not all of us),
  • and international trade on a personal and commercial level,

the castle in question need no longer be English. 

There are all sorts of ways in which we can acquire assets overseas: buying, inheriting, sometimes even getting lucky in a competition. However you came by it, if you are the lucky owner of overseas assets, tricky questions can arise for your loved ones. That is, if they are to become in their turn the lucky owners of those assets when… well, we won’t dwell on that gloomy prospect, but you know what we mean.

Because leaving your assets to people when they are situated overseas means a complicated will and even more complicated administrative procedures, depending on:

  • where the will was drawn up
  • where the assets are
  • where the executors are, and
  • where the beneficiaries are.

It’s almost enough to make you sell your chalet in the Austrian Alps and put your cash in a box under the bed.

The solution: an International Will

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we all ask, if there were such a thing as an International Will? A will that would be accepted all over the world, wherever it was drawn up. A will that would be valid, whatever language it was written in? A will that you know would be legally binding wherever your property was? A will, in short, that would mean that you don’t have to make three different wills for three different countries.

Well – ask no more.

The UK is a signatory to the ‘Convention providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will’. That title, which may not be snappy, is at least a fairly good indication of the content of the Convention. Such a good indication, in fact, that we hardly need go into much detail. The Convention contains an Annexe which includes the form of an International Will. And that Annexe was included in the Schedule to an Act of Parliament, thereby enshrining it in English Law.


The catch?

The catch is that it hasn’t really taken off as an idea.

  • The Convention was signed in 1974.
  • Only 21 states bought into it at the time, including the Vatican and Czechoslovakia (before it split).
  • Not all the states that signed it have ratified it yet – including the United Kingdom.
  • The Act containing the Annexe was passed in 1982 by the UK Parliament, and that part of the Act which relates to it has never been brought into force.

This all suggests that while a number of countries thought that it was a great idea in theory, almost no one has worked out how it will operate in practice. At the present rate of progress, we calculate that it will have been sorted out by the year 2416.

For now, though, make your will in the usual way.

Read more about how to deal with overseas property and assets in your will