Can I Use an International Will in California?

For those who own property in multiple countries, an international will can be a great solution to handling your estate planning needs across borders. An international will, however, isn’t a standardized practice between countries – as such, you’ll need to be careful in how your will is created in order to ensure its efficacy in both California and a foreign country.

Over the years, there have been a number of attempts to harmonize estate planning law between jurisdictions. One such attempt was the 1973 convention providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will, which is also known as the “Washington Convention.” The Washington Convention was an attempt to standardize the requirements for a will that is legally valid and accepted between countries. Each country, however, has its own specific probate laws and statutes governing trusts, estates, and wills. As a result, there is still a degree of diversity in the acceptance of foreign or international wills in any given jurisdiction. 

While the basic requirements for a valid international will are the same in all countries that accepted the practices established in the Washington Convention, there are still some differences in the details within the country’s respective legislation. For example, some countries require witnesses to a will to be physically present when the will is written and signed, while others do not. As a result, only a few countries throughout the world and about half of U.S. states have adopted similar standards to the Washington Convention in an effort to promote the harmonization of their estate laws. Furthermore, many countries have provisions in their laws that dictate contradictory requirements for will standardization. This means that acquiring a will that is accepted internationally can be difficult – but by no means impossible. If you sign an international will in accordance with the California Uniform International Wills Act, which contains the requirements under the Washington Convention, then it applies to assets held in foreign countries that are members of the Washington Convention.

As indicated above, California’s Uniform International Wills Act was modeled to replicate the requirements of the signing of wills under the Washington Convention. As a result, obtaining an international will in the state is not impossible. As long as your will complies with the general requirements outlined by the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law at the Washington Convention, as well as California law (including the Uniform International Wills Act), your will can act as an international will. The main requirements, as indicated in Probate Code section 6380 and following, are:

  • The will must be in writing;
  • The will must be signed in front of two witnesses and a legally authorized person (an attorney is fine);
  • A certificate in the exact form of California Probate Code section 6384 must be signed, dated, and attached to the will;
  • The will must be for only one person;
  • The will is signed on every page, and at the end; and,
  • Every page of the will must be numbered.

These are likely less stringent requirements than expected – and in fact, California also updated its Probate Code in 2008 to allow for “harmless errors”, or errors which do not impact the implementation of the will but would otherwise fail these requirements. This could include failing to sign on a single page of the document or failing to have one of the witnesses sign. As long as there is clear evidence that the testator intended to use the version of the will as their final will, and that it has not been modified since, it may still be used.

If you’re seeking an international will to plan for your assets across multiple countries, or need assistance with any of your estate planning needs, contact The Law Offices of Tyler Q. Dahl today.

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