As our lives become more international it has become far more common for people to own assets in more than one jurisdiction. I am often asked whether my clients who own assets in Germany, Switzerland or Austria should have separate Wills in each jurisdiction. Equally clients in those countries may have assets in the UK. Should these be dealt with under a UK Will?
The answer is not one size fits all and there are a number of considerations to take into account, but generally, I would say that having multiple Wills is likely to be the best choice.
It has practical advantages as the solicitors drawing up the documents will be experienced in their respective jurisdiction and will have an up to date understanding of the issues at hand. It also ensures that once you die, the solicitors can proceed with obtaining Probate of the Will in their respective jurisdiction. Often a court issuing a Grant retains the original Will. This can cause problems if the original is required in another jurisdiction and might necessitate certified and notarised copies being obtained.
Most importantly, having two Wills ensures that issues surrounding the concept of Trusts can be avoided. Indeed, it is important to remember that the concept of Executorship involves a trust and this is can cause difficulties in ‘civil law’ jurisdictions, for instance Germany and Switzerland. Ensuring that separate Swiss and German Wills are executed allows the UK estate to pass into a Trust and be administered as such. Whilst the Austrian legal system recognises some form of trust it would still be prudent to ensure that whatever is contained in a UK Will is recognised there and this most easily achieved by executing a separate Will.
Of course, it can be cheaper to execute one Will and depending on the type and value of assets held in other jurisdictions it may not be necessary to draw up several documents.
In addition, complications can arise when two Wills are executed if these are not correctly drawn up and they inadvertently revoke each other. Whilst this seems obvious, we see this issue occurring regularly. It is therefore vital to ensure that the solicitors acting in each jurisdiction are aware of your intention to draw up Wills in each jurisdiction so they can limit the document they are drawing up to the relevant jurisdiction.
Whether you should draw up a Will in each jurisdiction depends largely on your personal circumstances. You should seek advice.