Overseas property and assets

While having an overseas connection in a will is becoming increasingly common, it may still make the provisions you need to make in your will more complicated. This is because the inheritance rules in the relevant countries may need to also be taken into account when drafting your will. In some countries, for example, there are rules known as forced heirship rules, which mean your property would have to go to your family (in part, at least), whatever your wishes – and that would take precedence over the terms of your will.

If you have a foreign element to your estate, it is advisable to obtain specialist legal advice before making your will. Such overseas connections that may need legal advice include:

If any of these are relevant, a co-ordinated strategy may be needed to ensure the rules in the countries concerned have been taken into account.

The situation may be more complicated if you are not based in the UK yourself. Here, the crucial distinction is whether you are domiciled outside the UK or simply resident outside the UK. This makes a difference when it comes to the inheritance tax that will be due on your estate. Where you are domiciled is a complicated subject, which is explained further in our Overseas connection – when the testator is based overseas page.

While less complicated, there can also be issues if your witnesses are based overseas. Your will needs to be signed by you in the presence of two independent adult witnesses, who also need to sign the will and put their name, address and occupation. It is rare that witnesses ever need to be contacted but this might happen if the validity of the signing of your will is disputed at some point down the track. There is nothing to stop witnesses being based overseas but, of course, if they are required to give evidence it is usually easier to track them down if they are based in the UK.

(If a term is in bold, that means it's in our Glossary.)