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What does the law have to say about foreign wills?

If a person executes a will in a foreign country and later immigrates to the U.S., chances are good they might begin to doubt whether their will would be honored by our legal system in the event of their demise.

While this uncertainty makes sense given the very specific — and often very different — requirements set by the individual states regarding will executions, the reality is that foreign wills often stand a good chance of being admissible in courts here in the U.S. even if they are not executed in accordance with exact requirements (number of witnesses, etc.).

Indeed, legal experts indicate that unless a foreign will 1) fails to adhere to the most basic requirements such as bearing the signature of the testator, 2) makes major changes to an existing will and/or 3) is incredibly unorthodox, it likely will not have to be re-executed in order to comply with U.S. standards. 

Interestingly enough, this very issue was recently before the Florida courts. Here, the case involved a woman who executed a valid will in the state of New York and later became a citizen of Argentina, where she executed another will in accordance with that country’s legal standards effectively revoking the prior will.

These Argentine legal standards dictate that wills can be transcribed by a notary in the presence of witnesses who provide such vital information as their names, addresses and government-issued numbers. Furthermore, these standards allow for wills to be orally approved by executors after having them read aloud by the notary. 

We’ll continue exploring more about this case in our next post.

If you have any questions about estate planning, including the possible need to redraft a foreign will, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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