Writing a Will when you live outside of the UK

I am retired in Thailand, lived all over the place so I have assets in numerous countries and I wish to update my Will. On talking with a local lawyer he told me he can establish a will in Thailand to cover my assets here but I will need to do separate ones for other countries.

As a UK citizen, resident here in Thailand, I want to make a Will which will be effective both here and there. Any ideas about how to go about it? Does it require two separate documents to cover assets in both places?

UK Last Will and Testament

When we look through various expat forums this is one of the most common questions asked. You can see variations on the question here and here. “If I’m living overseas, but have assets in my home country, how do I prepare my UK Last Will and Testament”.

What follows in the forums is a mix of excellent advice, interspersed with some really poor advice.

Some good advice from the forums

Also, if you have any assets in the U.K. you need a UK Last Will and Testament too. The Thai will only covers Thailand. We had to do two in the U.S. and two in Thailand.

A Thai will has to be written in Thai to be legal. You can have a “copy” written in your own language, but the Thai one will prevail in any court.

I have the bulk of our affairs in the UK but alarmingly don’t have any Wills drawn-up despite her constantly nagging me to do so. We had Thai Wills drawn-up but a friend of mine is a probate lawyer and said that UK law wouldn’t cover our property in Thailand so it was advisable to have something drawn-up to cover anything there since anything from the UK would have no jurisdiction. Considering our UK Last Will and Testament was quoted at £600 each plus 20% VAT, I thought that £150 for the pair in Thailand seemed like a good deal.

The courts in Thailand will not accept a case where ALL the documents are not written in Thai.

In essence, you need a Will to be drawn up for each jurisdiction in which you hold assets, and the document must be written in the language of those courts. You cannot submit a Thai Will to the courts in the UK, and likewise, and UK Last Will and Testament would not be admissible to courts in Thailand.

But it is not just the language barrier; there are laws as to what can and cannot be done in a Will, and there are laws that direct the contents of the document and the steps that must be followed to make the document legal. These laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so a Will written under Thai law, even if written in English, would probably not be accepted by a UK Probate court.

If you are thinking of writing your Will using a blank kit (which in itself is a really bad idea), you would have to find a kit that covers the jurisdiction in which you hold assets. This might work if you only have assets in one country, but if you have assets in multiple countries, a blank UK Last Will and Testament kit will not work for you.

Some bad advice on writing a UK last will and testament

It is not difficult, you can prepare a UK Last Will and Testament on your own utilizing any of the free blank templates, even if not in Thai it is accepted as long as you have two witnesses sign the document.This will only apply for Thailand, If you assets in another country you need a will in that country, it can also be a free download type and this is accepted in UK and Australia.I have checked in all three countries and been told by lawyers it is quite acceptable

A person under Thai law may also make a holographic testament, i.e. a testament written wholly by the testator himself, including the date of writing and signature of the testator. it is accepted as long as you have two witnesses sign the document

If you use a free blank template to prepare a UK Last Will and Testament you face a few issues. Firstly, the Will is going to be inadequate and probably will not include important components like alternate plans, trusts for minors, powers granted to the Executor. There is actually a high likelihood that you will create a Will that will simply not work.

Furthermore, the UK Last Will and Testament that you create will not be designed to work together with another Will. It will likely start with “I revoke all previous Wills” (including any Thai Will) and will include something like “I leave my entire estate to John Smith” (without stipulating that it is only referring to your UK assets). This Last Will and Testament will create a number of problems for your loved ones.

The same applies to a handwritten or “holographic” Will. It is actually very difficult to prepare a well drafted UK Last Will and Testament starting with a blank piece of paper, and not an approach that should be taken unless you are pinned under a rock. Our Wills include over 20 clauses and are 5-6 pages. Not a single clause is superfluous in a well drafted Will.

Description of the challenge from the forums

So now that we’ve established that multiple Wills are required; one for each country in which assets are held, how logistically can the Wills be prepared by a solicitor in each country when the documents must be signed and witnessed?

I’ve finally made my will for my assets in Thailand, now I need one for my assets in the UK. I wondered if anyone has completed a UK Last Will and Testament using a solicitor without going back to the UK. I left the UK in 2002 and have no plans to visit in the near future.

I don’t really want to pay for a flight back just to make a will if I can find a competent UK lawyer in Thailand.

We were also told that I would need to do one in England, can’t remember exactly now but think it was due to the difference in inheritence laws in the two countries. Anyway, as the lawyer here was British, they produced it for me and said to either get it ‘legalised’ next time I was there or have it done via post somehow, which they said they could do if I wanted.

The difficulty is that if you use a solicitor to prepare a UK Last Will and Testament they must be licensed to practice law in the UK, which means that they will have a law office in the UK. The document must be signed by you which inevitably means taking a trip to the UK just to sign your Will (facsimiles and scanned signatures are not legally admissible in probate court). For a document that people procrastinate on at the best of times, this is a massive barrier to preparing one’s UK Last Will and Testament.

The service at ExpatLegalWills.com

There are elements of good advice in amongst the bad. It is true that you do not have to use a solicitor to prepare a UK Last Will and Testament, but using a blank form kit is not the answer. Our service is fully interactive and guides you through the process asking you questions about your family situation and intentions for your estate. It prompts you to create alternate plans and only allows you to do things in your Will that are legal in the UK.

Your UK Last Will and Testament can be completed from anywhere in the World. It should then be downloaded and printed, and then signed in the presence of two witnesses. The Will is specifically written to deal exclusively with your UK assets and works in a complementary way with any Will written in your country of residence.

Have you ever received advice on preparing a US, Canadian or UK Last Will and Testament while living overseas? We would love to hear this advice and we’ll be happy to comment.

Tim Hewson