Although many people are still avoiding international travel due to the pandemic, in pre-covid times, it was becoming more and more common for people to move around the world and accumulate assets in multiple countries.

It isn’t uncommon for people with investments or assets in various countries to make a will overseas to deal with these assets. This can create interesting complications when the person dies, and probate applications are required.

Hence, we are dedicating this next instalment of the Prickly Probate Series to applications for probate of foreign wills.

Foreign Probates and Reseals

Suppose someone with assets in New Zealand dies and has no will in New Zealand but does have a will from a Commonwealth Country. In that case, the process is reasonably straightforward in that we can apply for our High Court to put their seal on the probate of the will from the other Commonwealth Country. To understand more about a reseal and how assets in multiple countries are dealt with, see our articles here; What is a reseal? — NZ Probates & Reseals and Estates with assets around the world — NZ Probates & Reseals.

Foreign Wills – Probate Application Process

However, when someone with assets in New Zealand dies and has no will in New Zealand, but does have a will from another country that isn’t a Commonwealth Country, the only option to deal with the New Zealand assets is to probate the foreign will here.

An application for probate of a foreign will is similar to a regular application for probate, but it has a few key additions:

  • There must be an affidavit from a lawyer in the country where the will was made confirming that the will is valid in the country where it was made;

  • There must be a translation of the will if it is not in English;

  • There must also be an affidavit from the person who translated the will showing their qualifications and confirming that the translation is an exact copy into English of what is in the will; and

  • Although it is not obligatory, proof that probate of the will has been granted to the same person applying here in the country where the will was made is helpful.

It will almost always be critical that the will is valid in the country where it was signed. Occasionally this isn’t the case depending on the citizenship and domicile of the will maker, where the actual signing of the will took place and whether the countries involved are signatories to the international conventions governing the validity of wills. Still, it is best to have a lawyer involved to navigate the complexities correctly.

Case Studies

I recently had a client who made a will to govern his assets located in New Zealand. The way the will was written and signed meant that it would have been valid in New Zealand, but because he was not a New Zealand citizen, was domiciled overseas and actually signed the will overseas in a country where it was not a valid will in the way he signed it, it was invalid in New Zealand as well.

Another complication is that some wills state that they only cover the assets in a particular country, in which case they can only be probated and used in the country whose assets they state that they cover.

I’ve had a case where a client made a will in the United Kingdom, which said it only covered her assets situated in the United Kingdom. She intended to make another will to cover her New Zealand assets, but she died before completing the New Zealand will. In that case, even though we had a perfectly valid will and probate in the United Kingdom (which we would otherwise have been able to reseal), we could not use it here, and she was treated as being intestate (i.e. having no will) in relation to her New Zealand estate.

Prickly Probates

There are so many twists and turns in these types of applications which we will cover in future articles on further aspects, but suffice to say that probating a foreign will in New Zealand is a classic case of a Prickly Probate.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

If you are acting for an estate that has assets in New Zealand, but the only will is from another country, we would be happy to help. We make these applications often and streamline this complex process to make it easy for you. Even if you are a lawyer yourself, it can be worthwhile to entrust the probate application to a specialist and save you the time upskilling for an application you will very rarely be obliged to make.

For more information or assistance from our probate specialist, please give Jenny Lowe a call on 04 916 0153 or email jenny.lowe@morrisonkent.com. Jenny is one of few legal specialists in New Zealand for reseals, probate and letters of administration applications.

 

Probate a Foreign Will | Morrison Kent