Expats face some unique challenges when trying to write a Will. If they still hold assets in their home country, they need to create a Will separately to cover those assets, but the logistical challenge of say, creating a UK Will, while living in Thailand, is often insurmountable. We know that 65 percent of adults do not prepare a Will when there are no geographic challenges, so we can only guess that the number of expats without a Will would be even higher.
For expats there are four options for preparing a Will to cover assets held in multiple countries.
1. Write a Will starting with a blank piece of paper.
This is without a doubt the worst option. People often get muddled because they hear that if you write a Will on the back of a napkin, it is technically a legal document. Although this is correct, it will be an extremely poorly written Last Will and Testament, and the instructions may not be usable. At best there will be confusion as to what you were trying to say, at worst, the whole document will be rejected as inadequate.
Just to gain some perspective on this approach. Not even a highly trained legal professional would attempt to write a Will starting with a blank piece of paper. They use software to incorporate established legal precedents and cut and paste these known paragraphs to compile your Will. There is actually no chance of a layperson being able to write a Will of quality with no reference materials.
A well drafted Will would usually be about five or six pages, and include over twenty clauses, many of which provide instructions on the scope and powers given to the trustee of the estate. These are very important clauses which would almost certainly be missing if you decide to write a Will starting with a blank sheet of paper.
You may hear of the term “holographic Will” which means that the document is written entirely by hand. In some States, Provinces and countries these documents are accepted as legal Wills, but the law is there to support a situation where a person is dying in extreme circumstances and need to quickly write a Will. There are also special laws for active military personnel. Just because these laws exist, they should not be used as a recommended approach to preparing your own estate planning documents.
2. Write a Will using a blank form Will kit
This is one step up from starting with a blank piece of paper. The form will likely provide you with some basic headings and will usually come with a guidebook explaining how to complete each section. We have written extensively across all of our blogs detailing the dangers of these blank form kits. They will not be able to check for errors, will leave too much blank space for you to complete, and will likely not guide you through contingency plans. There have been several well documented cases of people using these blank form kits to write a Will and making a complete mess of things.
You have no assurance that if you write a Will using a blank form kit that the kit has been kept up-to-date to reflect current laws. It will almost certainly not be specific to the jurisdiction (the laws of British Columbia are different to Ontario, and Texas compared to California).
Furthermore, as an expat you are faced with a particular challenge. You would need to find a kit that complies with the legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which you are holding assets, in other words, you may have to purchase a Canadian Will kit while living in Australia. This is of course possible now in the days of online shopping, but you will not be able to purchase a Will that works together with a Will written for your new home. In fact, a standard Will kit probably revokes (cancels) a Will that you have written for your new country of residence. You would need a kit that deals exclusively with assets held in one jurisdiction and not concern itself with assets held in another jurisdiction. To our knowledge, this type of kit does not exist.
3. Write a Will through a lawyer or solicitor
This is one way to ensure that your Will is probably going to be written correctly, but it is a logistical challenge. If you are in Hong Kong and need a Will to cover your UK assets, you will need to write a Will through a solicitor who is familiar with UK law, and licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction. Invariably, this means travelling to the UK to prepare the Will. Likewise, if you are a US expat living in Dubai, and you wish to write a Will through an estate planning lawyer, you will need to travel back to the US to consult with the lawyer, and have the paperwork signed.
You may be able to have the lawyer write a Will on your behalf based on a phone consultation, but there are still signing requirements to be dealt with, and a facsimile or digital version of a Will is not a legally admissible document. It must be an original, signed document to be accepted by the courts.
This approach would likely end up costing thousands of dollars in legal fees and travel. Clearly, it can be combined with a trip back to your home country, but if you are not planning a trip, then making the journey in order to prepare a Will is improbable.
4. Write a Will using an online Will service
Fortunately, there now exists a convenient and affordable solution to this dilemma. The option to write a Will under the laws of Canada, the US or UK, while sitting in Thailand, India or Dubai. Furthermore, the solution provides you with a Will that deals exclusively with the assets held in that jurisdiction, and is written to work together with any Will written for your new home. The final document would look identical to a Will created by a lawyer in the US or Canada, or a solicitor in the UK (we use the same software that they use, we just give you direct access to it).
To write a Will using our service you would simply go to www.expatlegalwills.com and click on “start your Will”. You firstly identify where your assets are located, and where you are living, this directs the service to prepare the correct Will under the laws of your chosen jurisdiction.
You then step through the process of preparing your Will by answering a series of questions about your family situation, and how you would like your UK, Canadian or US assets to be distributed. You would also choose an Executor to administer the estate in that country at the appropriate time.
Answering the questions takes about 20 minutes, and the service costs $34.95 or £24.95. Once you have completed answering the questions, you download and print your document. Sign it in the presence of two witnesses, and you are done, you have managed to write a Will to cover your assets while living abroad.