Based on a True Story
In 2011, I got a call from a client in Moscow. Here is what happened. The client’s uncle (lets name him Sam) died in NY in 2009 and left a substantial inheritance to his nephew in Russia – a house worth $750,000 and a bank account of $250,000. Sam was a financially affluent, childless and unmarried man, and had no other relatives. The question posed by a client was: “how can I get it?”
It was a tricky situation, since the uncle only left a will. If there is just a will, foreign-based relatives must hire a US attorney to probate (validate) the will. According to US laws, each will has to go through probate to become valid, even if no one is objecting to its validity. The probate court’s location must be in the county of uncle’s death. While under probate, all uncle’s assets are frozen by the court: thus, Russian nephew cannot use a house or bank account. It could take up to a year and a half for the process to be completed. The contestants (if any) may question the will on many grounds – was it indeed the last and final will of the decedent, was decedent in sound mind while executing the will etc… Again, I want to emphasize that the will is not valid unless it passes through probate – a process by which the court has to validate it. This process is expensive(and includes court and attorney’s fees) and is impossible to complete without a lawyer.
On the contrary, if the uncle left a trust, nephew would bein luck. If the nephew is a beneficiary of the revocable or irrevocable trust, created by an uncle, then the nephew would get an inheritance without any legal problems. It would be disbursed tothe nephew by the trustee (or trustees) of the trust, according tohis uncle’s wishes, and right away. Trust would never go to probate. The greatest thing about the trust is that it does not matter if the beneficiary is a US or a foreign national – the assetswill be transferred to him no matter what.
Why am I spending so much time talking about this issue? If you want to leave your assets to somebody abroad, the best way to provide smooth transfer is to go to a reputable attorney, create a trust, and designate your relatives abroad as trust beneficiaries. This way, after your death, your relative would avoid wasting time and money on legal fees and will get everything you want to leave him without any issues.