British Expat Wills – What You Need to Know


If you live abroad, making a will can be complex, and there are a range of potential issues that could complicate the process further. To avoid such complications, you must cover all relevant aspects when writing a will as an expat, including matters related to your residency and domicile status, which we can help you with here at Unite Wills.

Here’s our guide to making a will if you live overseas and the potential stumbling blocks to be cautious of as a British expat.

Writing wills for expats 

It is notoriously complex to write a will as a British expat without the help of an expert, because the estate and inheritance rules vary significantly across different countries, and determining which laws apply to your specific situation can be difficult. 

For domiciled expats living in England and Wales, the delegation of their moveable estate (their money, personal possessions, etc.) falls under English and Welsh law. This is unlikely to be the case, however, for immovable assets (properties, land, etc.) that are outside of England and Wales.

It’s likely that the immovable assets will be dealt with under the law of the jurisdiction where the assets are situated. For example, if a British expat owns a house in France, it will be handled under French inheritance law, so they will need to plan ahead with an additional will and testament.

Why should expats make a will?

Creating a will is essential as it outlines your final wishes and ensures that your estate is distributed exactly how you want it to be after you pass away. If you die without a valid will, your estate will be shared out in line with the rules of intestacy and your wishes will not be considered. What’s more, your entire estate could be handed over to the Crown if you have no known surviving relatives.

By writing an accurate will that covers all bases, you are protecting your assets, providing your family with the financial security that they need, and ensuring that your final wishes are known and carried out.  

All nations have their own laws relating to the distribution and taxation of estates, and there is currently no universally-recognised will template that adheres to all jurisdictions. For these reasons, it is therefore common for expats with assets in several countries to have more than one will in place, ensuring that their estate is secure worldwide. 

Expats have even more reason to make a valid will than the average person, due to the complications that can arise as a result of the varying laws of different countries regarding inheritance, property, estate, and tax. 

Ensure that any will you have meets the requirements of the country in which you are residing and be sure to plan for any potential cross-border issues if you have family or assets in a different location.

Issues faced when making a will if you live abroad

Without a legally valid will in place, you risk the following:

  • Your assets could be distributed in a way that doesn’t represent your wishes.
  • Your loved ones will face a long and tedious process when it comes to organising the estate if it is spread across different countries.
  • Your estate could be subject to more inheritance tax than is necessary, leaving your family worse-off.

When making a will as an expat, there are two main issues to plan for: the amount of inheritance tax that will be placed on your estate when you die, and who your assets are going to be inherited by.

Wills and the European Union (EU)

Due to the EU Succession Regulation (enforced from August 2015), expats who hold assets in an EU-member state (excluding the UK, Denmark and Ireland) may find that the laws governing the distribution of those assets are not the same as those in the country in which they are situated.

How the Succession Regulation applies to you and your estate as an expat depends primarily on your will and how well you have planned ahead. Certain wills are valid worldwide, some are valid everywhere - with a few exceptions - and others are only legally binding in one country.

The impact it has on you essentially depends on the laws of where you reside and how they clash with that of your home nation, but there are ways in which you can minimise the impact of other countries’ laws on your estate through your last will and testament.

Is foreign inheritance taxable in UK?

You may be required to pay tax in all the countries where your estate is held, but as mentioned, the laws differ from place to place. The amount of inheritance tax placed on your estate depends on the type of assets you own and where exactly they are held.

In short, without a will and adequate inheritance tax planning, you might end up paying tax in more than one country and your loved ones will lose out on a large proportion of your estate. 

Taxation laws can be complex and overwhelming to deal with alone, particularly with cross-border estates, so be sure to speak to a professional advisor before making your will.

Writing a will with Unite Wills

Without a legally valid will that covers all relevant eventualities, your estate could end up being distributed in line with the rules of intestacy, rather than your personal wishes, and you could end up paying more inheritance tax than you need to. 

You should always seek the advice of a professional will-writing service to ensure that your estate and your loved ones won’t be negatively impacted by the effects of cross-border rules and inheritance laws. 

To begin writing your will to secure your estate, register with us online now, and if you have any problems during the process, you can contact our team who will help you protect the estate you’ve worked so hard to build, wherever it may be.