Retiring Abroad? Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan
If you’re planning to retire abroad, you’ve probably researched locations, weather, and maybe even real estate. But have you remembered to update your estate plan?
These aren’t the most pleasant subjects, but they are critically important: by taking the time to put your estate plans in place, you have invested in your family’s wellbeing and ability to help you in a crisis.
Here’s what you need to know.
Medical information and healthcare POA
Moving abroad means healthcare abroad: at the very least, you’ll want to have a primary care doctor who you trust and can readily communicate with. Even if you’re in good health, the inevitable bouts of flu or minor injuries will be far simpler to manage if you know who to call and can do so right away.
But medical care is also important for estate planning.
Get familiar with the legal framework surrounding issues like your Advance Care Directive.
Also known as a living will, this document provides instructions for your medical care in the event that you aren’t able to make your own decisions. Note that not every country considers this a legal document, so do your homework – after all, you probably want to ensure that your wishes are followed!
Similarly, you may want to appoint a healthcare Power of Attorney, or someone who can legally make local healthcare decisions for you if necessary. This is often a spouse or other trusted friend or family member.
An emergency is not the time to figure out these issues: family members scrambling to organize care from the US after you’ve been incapacitated is very close to a worst-case scenario. Be prepared by getting to know the rules and ensuring that your plans are constructed in accordance with them.
Foreign property and accounts
If you’ve purchased a home abroad or opened foreign bank accounts, it’s important to take the time to figure out how they can be incorporated into your estate plan for ease of transfer after death.
Every country’s laws are different, and they may catch you (or your descendants) by surprise if you’re not careful.
You might need to add a descendent as an owner to your account or title ahead of time, or you may need to file paperwork or otherwise title your accounts and property in a specific way. Depending on where you go and how complex it gets, it can help to speak to a local estate or family law attorney about what you need to do to simplify and solidify the issue of ownership transfers after death.
Your attorney may also be able to help you manage any possible estate tax issues that could also arise.
Financial Power of Attorney
Similar to a healthcare power of attorney, American estate attorneys often recommended appointing a financial power of attorney, or someone who can make financial decisions for you in the event of incapacitation.
If you have assets in your new home country, it’s important to make sure that your chosen representative has the legal standing to make decisions for you if needed.
For example, even if you appoint your adult child as your financial power of attorney in the US, he or she may not necessarily have the legal right to represent you abroad.
Find out what you need to do locally to ensure that you’re protected on this front: it might be as simple as a certified translation of your existing estate planning documents, or it might require a lengthier process. Again, a local estate planning attorney should be able to help.
Changes to burial plans and related issues
Whether or not you’ve adopted your new home country as your chosen resting place, keep in mind that funeral planning can get complicated even when the whole family is in the same city. Add the possibility of an international trip to one’s final resting place or having a family member organize a burial in another language from the US, and you can see how difficult this could become.
To help your family manage the issue should it arise, put your burial plans in place ahead of time. Whether it’s providing some of the legal paperwork as part of your estate plan or choosing a funeral home and resting place, any measures you can take to help your family know what to do and how will help ease the burden of loss.
Think about the following:
- Where would you want to be buried, cremated, and/or commemorated?
- What legal obstacles might there be to this decision?
- Is there a specific resting place you prefer? A funeral home you can refer your family to?
- If your burial requires international travel, what documents or plans need to be in place to facilitate that process?
This is obviously a very uncomfortable topic for most, but it is an important piece of the estate planning puzzle. Even if the issue of expat burial becomes irrelevant – maybe you move back home or even move to another country again – taking the time to find out what would need to be done in the event of your untimely death would have spared your loved ones much worry during a horrible time.
Sharing plans with family
Once you’ve updated and addressed some of the issues involved in expat estate planning, it’s important to share your plans with your loved ones.
You might want to make copies of your estate planning documents and instructions to ensure that all relevant family members have the information they need – no matter where in the world you happen to be. Also consider sharing a copy with suitable friends, family, or an estate attorney in your new home country.
And remember that your loved ones need more than just your wishes! Be sure to include:
- Bank account titles and account numbers
- Copies of property titles and the contact information of any relevant governmental departments
- Contact information for your attorney(s) or financial advisor(s)
- Contact information for your local doctor and key friends or family members
- Contact information for your family and friends abroad
Obviously, one of the critical issues here is contact information: especially when living abroad, it’s important to help make sure that your family members or loved ones can manage your affairs or take them over should it be required.
While it’s a difficult subject, estate planning is just as critical for expats as it is for everyone else – in some ways even more so. Take the time to invest in designing your own. Hopefully your loved ones won’t have to make use of it anytime soon. But if they do, they’ll be grateful for your guidance.