So many persons may happen to have estates across countries with families and loved ones elsewhere or in some situations where some get married to a foreigner or invest in foreign countries and all these could make estate planning quite challenging. However, synchronizing your international estates will require legal experts with vast knowledge, understanding and wealth of experience in such issues as estate succession and tax laws in the relevant countries that will affect the effectiveness of a will in the event of death. Difficulties In Estate Planning For Expatriates And Multinational Families In spite of the different estate tax laws in different states in America, however, these differences are barely noticeable because they all are founded on the same foundation in legal matters. But the contrary is the case across nations or internationally. While the Americans use the common law, the Europeans and Africans use the civil law. The common law is a legal system developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals (also called case law), as distinguished from legislative statutes or regulations promulgated by the executive branch. Whereas civil law is Roman law based on the Corpus Juris Civilis; it is the body of law dealing with the private relations between members of a community; it contrasts with common law. It contrasts with criminal law, military law and ecclesiastical law as well. Common Law Offers Significant Planning Pliability As regards estate planning, common law allows or gives an individual (the trustor) the freedom to decide who and who to receive what and what, he or she has the liberty to decide how his or her properties or estates should be distributed when he or she dies. Hence, a will is very vital as it determines how the estate of the decendent is to be distributed via the probate process. However, a trust can help avoid the probate process and the taxation of the estate likewise. Also based on common law, the estate is normally taxed before it is transferred to the beneficiary or named heir. Meanwhile, in a situation where there's no will, the estate becomes intestate and it is distributed based on the state laws. Civil Law Operates Based On Succession This is similar to the intestate laws followed in common law in the absence of a will when an individual dies. This implies that even while alive an individual cannot determine how his or her estate should be distributed in the event of his or her death. So, a will is almost of no use in civil law unlike in common law. Again, taxation of the estate takes place during distribution unlike in common law where the estates are taxed before distribution. That is, the heirs or beneficiaries of the estate are being taxed in civil law. Meanwhile, a trust is of no relevance when civil law is in operation. Citizenship and Residency An expatriate should have a good understanding of the laws and requirements concerning citizenship and residency in any country he lives and in which he possess properties. The estate plans of an expatriate will not only be altered by relocating to a new place with different laws, but also how long he or she intends to stay in the new location is another contributing factor and likewise how much of his riches he invests in the new location. International Transfer of Tax Credits The transfer tax for an expatriate is determined by the following factors; 1. The type of assets 2. The location of the assets 3. The accessiblity of tax credits in significant areas where there is an overlap of levied taxes 4. The relevance of an estate tax agreement or protocol between the US and the country of residence Usful techniques for international tax estate planning includes; Wills, Trusts, Life insurance, Gifting, personal investment companies, college savings etc. Estate Planning In The Case Of A Non-citizen People live, work and own properties overseas and happen to marry from their country of residence or a foreigner altogether. Sadly, the difficulties in taxation faced by American expatriates also occurs in a situation where they marry foreigners. In spite of having a permanent resident in the US, spouse who are foreigners do not enjoy the unlimited marital deduction on gifts and inheritance transferred to them by their spouse. Although they enjoy the 2019 $11.4 million lifetime exclusion.
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An estate plan ensures that your property distribution aligns with your wishes

If you want to leave assets to friends or have your entire estate go to your spouse, you can only specify that via a will or other tool in your estate plan. The laws of the state of New York have no provisions for domestic partners, fiancées, close friends or other non-familial relationships. A will must be probated in a surrogate court in the county where the decedent lived.

A knowledgeable estate planning attorney can help minimize the complications, delays and costs of probate in a number of ways that include the following:

Create a living trust. A living trust can act as an alternative to a will that states who you want to manage and distribute your assets and property if you are incapacitated, and who will receive your assets and property after you die. Because assets are owned by the trust, there is no need to go through the probate process.

Filing for an administration proceeding. In New York, only estates valued at more than $30,000 need to be probated in court.

Transferring assets to named beneficiaries. Assets that are invested in retirement and investment accounts, insurance policies, and pension plans do not need to go through probate.

Create joint tenancy with a right of survivorship. In New York, when property is owned by multiple people under a joint tenancy arrangement, when one of the

owners dies, the property is distributed among the remaining owners without going through probate.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you determine if a will and/or any of these strategies should be included in your estate plan.

Distribution of Property When Someone Dies Intestate in New York

New York State laws have created a framework for passing on property when someone dies intestate. Instead of a probate proceeding, the closest living relative of the decedent (the person who died) will have to file for estate administration. This generally falls to the spouse, children, parents, or siblings. If the closest relative does not want to administer the estate, he or she can sign a waiver allowing the next relative to take over the administration proceeding. This does not mean that they are waiving their share of the decedent’s estate, just that they do not want to be the administrator. In general, a decedent’s property will be given to his or her relations in the following order:


If the decedent was married but had no children, the decedent’s spouse will inherit everything. In a family with a surviving spouse and children, the surviving husband or wife inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the remainder of the estate. The children inherit everything else.


If the decedent has living children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. Under New York laws, there must be a legal parent-child relationship in order for a child to inherit. This may include adopted children, biological children, children born outside of marriage (if biological relationship is established), and children born after the decedent’s death. Stepchildren and foster children will not inherit any portion of the estate unless they were legally adopted before the decedent’s death.


If the decedent was unmarried and had no children at the time of death, the parents inherit the entire estate.


If the decedent was unmarried, had no children, and had no living parents, the estate will be distributed to his or her brothers and sisters.


Grandchildren will inherit only if their parent (the decedent’s child) has predeceased the decedent.

The government

If the decedent has no living family members, his or her property will go to the State of New York.

Create your estate plan

The New York estate planning attorneys at Morgan Legal Group P.C. can advise you about your estate planning options. Located in midtown Manhattan, we have been helping our clients with elder law and estate law for more than 65 years. We can help you create an estate plan that works for your specific situation.

If there is no will, New York State decides how property is distributed

A will helps ensure that your property is divided according to your wishes. Without a will, property is divided according to New York state law, which may not coincide with your wishes. When someone dies without a will, New York state distributes the estate among relatives according to the New York State laws of intestate succession. Basically, this law states:

1. If there is a spouse, but no children, the spouse inherits everything.

2. If there are children, but no spouse, the entire estate is divided among the children.

3. If there is a spouse and children, the spouse inherits $50,000 plus half of the value of the remaining estate. Everything else gets divided among the children.

4. If there is no spouse and no children, any living parent(s) inherit everything.

5. If there are no parents, children or spouse, any living sibling(s) inherit everything.

6. If the inheritance would go to a child (as outlined above) and the child dies before the decedent, then any children (grandchildren of the decedent from that child) would inherit that child’s share of the estate.

7. If there are no parents, children, grandchildren or spouse, then the inheritance would be divided among any living grandparents, their children, or their grandchildren (as outlined in the New York State law)

8. If there is no family as outlined above, then the property goes to the state of New York.

For children to inherit according to the rules above, there must be a legal parent-child relationship. This means:

1. There is no distinction made between adopted and biological children. Both inherit in the same way.

2. Foster children and stepchildren are not included (unless they were legally adopted before the person died).

3. Children born after the person dies, inherit like any other child.

4. Children born outside of marriage can inherit only if paternity has been established.

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