Estate Planning Beyond Borders: Foreigners that own assets in SA need to consider a South African Will

Dealing with a deceased estate is never an easy task, and it becomes even more complex when it involves assets across borders. In this blog post, we will break down the intricacies of managing estates that span across borders, providing valuable insights for those facing such situations. We will explore various types of appointments in foreign estates, the importance of having multiple wills, and the role of jurisdiction in these matters.

A deceased estate, in simple terms, refers to all the assets a person owns at the time of their passing. These assets can include immovable and movable property, investments, collectables, and more, both within and outside of South Africa, depending on the individual’s circumstances. When someone who was not ordinarily resident in South Africa passes away, and they leave behind property or a will in the country, their estate becomes what we call a “foreign estate.”

For foreign estates with assets in South Africa, dealing with these assets requires authorisation from the Master of the High Court in South Africa. This authorisation is granted through a lengthy process that involves the appointment of an SA executor to administer the estate.

One of the significant challenges in managing estates with foreign assets is the complexity of international laws and differing jurisdictions. Each country has its own succession laws and requirements for drafting valid wills. This complexity can lead to issues, especially if the deceased’s will is not recognised in a particular jurisdiction.

Some countries have “forced heirship” rules that dictate how assets must be distributed upon death. These rules can conflict with South African laws that uphold “freedom of testation,” the right to dispose of assets as one sees fit. To navigate these conflicts, it is often advisable to have separate wills for each country where assets are held.

Jurisdiction plays a crucial role in these matters. South African authorities may not automatically have jurisdiction over assets in other countries. It is essential to follow the proper legal procedures and ensure that wills and appointment letters do not contradict each other to avoid complications and delays. The tax laws of the different jurisdictions also play an integral part in the estate planning process.

Dealing with deceased estates involving foreign assets is a complex endeavour, requiring a deep understanding of both South African and international laws. Having a clear plan, seeking legal advice when needed, and ensuring that all documents comply with the relevant jurisdictions are key steps to successfully managing such estates. Additionally, considering the need for multiple wills, especially in cases of forced heirship, can help safeguard the distribution of assets according to your wishes.

Ultimately, seeking guidance from legal experts in the specific jurisdictions involved is essential for a smooth process. At Currency Assist, we are international funds transfer specialists and work with clients on a daily basis with these sorts of needs. We have a network of specialists that we work with to assist them and you can contact us today for more information.

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