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Dealing with an inheritance

Introduction

Millions of people around the world live in one country but have assets in another.

Those assets might be a business or shares in a company, a holiday home, a bank account, a car, a boat or countless other items.

When these people die those assets will need to be dealt with. They will need to be transferred into the ownership of the person now entitled to them - generally the person recognised as being entitled under the law of the country where the asset is located.

This process of transferring the assets into the name of the new person and paying any necessary taxes relating to the inheritance is, in England and the United States called probate but has other names in other countries.

Whilst dealing with a probate is usually not techinically difficult, dealing with an international probate of this kind does require a specialist who understands both the law and tax system of the country where the assets are located and the law and tax system in the country where you are resident and/or 'domiciled'.

The lawyers, accountants and other professionals who are the members of The International Law Partnership Ltd. have many years experience of dealing with international probates.

What will happen to my assets when I die?

This will vary depending upon where the assets are located. In some countries you are free to leave the assets to whomsoever you choose. In other countries certain fixed categories of relatives will have certain fixed rights to inherit your property. In some of these countries these rules apply only to people who are nationals of that country but in others they apply to both nationals and foreigners.

See our guide to 'Making a Will' for a fuller explanation about inheritance rights.

How will the transfer of the assets into the names of the new owners take place?

This will depend not only upon the country concerned but also the type of asset. It will also depend on whether you have left assets in other countries - particularly the country in which you normally live.

If you are faced with dealing with a death you should immediately seek legal advice to make sure you comply with all of the rules and legal requirements in the country in question. If you do not and you take steps that are wrong in that country it can cause serious and expensive problems later.

In general terms, the transfer of ownership of your assets to their new owners requires confirmation that you have died, legal documentation to show who is entitled to those assets under the law of the country in question, the completion of administrative paperwork to give effect to the transfer and the payment of any necessary taxes due in relation to the transfer.

If you have made a Will and if the contents of the Will are valid in the country in question then that Will and other associated documents will usually need to be offically translated into the language of the country and, often, a special type of legal document called a Certificate of Law will need to be prepared to confirm the validity and effect of the instructions contained in the Will.

Will my heirs have to pay taxes on what they inherit?

Generally, yes. There is a potential liability to tax in the country where the asset is located and there is a potential liability to tax in the country where you live or (for people of certain nationalities) where you are domiciled or of which you are a citizen.

However, in many cases this liability can be eliminated or greatly reduced by prior preparation. See our guide 'Inheritance Planning and Tax Minimisation' for more information about how to reduce your taxes. It is worth stressing that the steps necessary to reduce your taxes can mostly only be taken whilst you are still alive and some of the most effective need to be taken some time before your death.

How long does it take to deal with an inheritance.

This will depend entirely on the country concerned, the complexity of your personal circumstances and of your estate.

As a general guide, dealing with the transfer of a simple estate - say a holiday home, a car and a bank account - into the name of, say, your wife or children is likely to take about 4-6 months.

How much does it cost to deal with an inheritance?

Once again, this depends entirely upon the complexity of the case. In addition to the cost of the legal fees your heirs will, of course, need to pay the taxes to which I have already referred.

Next steps

Please look at the Legal Guides, videos, MP3 seminars and other materials set out to the right of this page.

If you would like us to help you, please complete our Client Pack and send it back to us. We will contact you to clarify your requirements and then introduce you to the person most appropriate to deal with your case.

If you do not find the information that you need, please send us an email explaining your problem and we will contact you.

© The International Law Partnership Ltd. Page last revised 5 Feb 2010

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