A Single Global Will vs Multiple Jurisdictional Wills: Which Is Better?
In the complex world of legacy planning, the decision to draft a will is a vital step that ensures one’s hard-earned assets and cherished possessions are distributed according to his/her wishes after his/her demise. With globalization occurring at such a rapid pace and more individuals having assets in multiple jurisdictions, therein lies a common question – Which is better? One global will to cover all of one’s assets globally or multiple jurisdictional wills to handle assets in each respective jurisdiction? Indeed, both kinds of wills have their merits and drawbacks, and the choice between them is not always straightforward. In this month’s FLP article, we will first delve into the importance of wills and the purpose they serve, explain what global and jurisdictional wills are, and then compare the advantages and disadvantages of each such we can determine which could potentially be more suitable for our needs.
The Importance of Wills
A will is a legally binding document that outlines how one’s assets and possessions should be distributed after his/her passing. The absence of a will and leaving it to the intestacy law of the jurisdiction can lead to uncertainty and potential unintended consequences in the distribution of one’s estate, resulting in ugly disputes among beneficiaries and in some cases, the breaking up of entire families. In fact, individuals want their wills done up for a whole plethora of reasons which include having more control over asset distribution, choosing of guardians, executors and trustees, maximising tax efficiency and most importantly, minimising or totally avoiding family disputes.
Evidently, one cannot dispute that having a will to manage the distribution of your assets is extremely important. The next issue, is then deciding between whether having a single global will is better than having multiple jurisdictional wills to manage one’s global assets.
What is a Global Will?
A global will, sometimes referred to as an international will or a worldwide will, is a legal document that covers the distribution of assets across various countries and jurisdictions. With globalisation, there is an increasing number of individuals who are starting to consider having a global will in order to streamline and manage all their assets with simply one will. The following explores the advantages of a global will while also considering the disadvantages:
Advantages of a Global Will:
- Simplified Estate Planning: A global will could help to streamline the estate planning process, consolidating all the assets held globally into one document, making it simpler for the testator to account for his/her entire estate with reference to just one single document.
- Consistency: A global will allows the testator to maintain consistency in his/her estate planning more clearly. One can specify how each type of asset should be distributed, regardless of its location, ensuring that his/her wishes are carried out uniformly.
Disadvantage of a Global Will:
- Complexity in Drafting: Drafting a global will can be more complex than a jurisdictional will, especially if there is a broad range of international assets, beneficiaries and various international laws to take into account. It will require the expertise of legal professionals with experience in international law to advise accordingly. This could take a substantial amount of time and resources.
- Jurisdictional Issues and lack of Certainty: Differences in legal systems and inheritance laws across countries can lead to complications when executing a global will. For example, the formalities to be followed regarding the proper execution of a will for it to be fully enforceable could differ from one jurisdiction to another and one would need to take the necessary measures to reconcile such differences, failing which, such global wills could potentially lead to a messier probate process.
- Potentially Longer Time required in the Probate Process: The probate process in most jurisdictions will require the submission of the original will to the local courts. Due to such a requirement, the entire probate process could potentially be delayed if any of the courts chooses not to release the original will for the executor to start continue with the application in the other jurisdiction.
- Updates and Amendments: Changes in one’s assets or beneficiaries in a single jurisdiction may necessitate updates to his/her global will, which can be more cumbersome than modifying a jurisdictional will.
What is a Jurisdictional Will?
A jurisdictional will, also known as a domestic will, is a legal document that addresses the distribution of assets solely within the jurisdiction of a specific country or region.
Advantages of a Jurisdictional Will:
- Simplicity of Will: Jurisdictional wills are often simpler to create and execute, as they are focused on the legal requirements and customs of a single jurisdiction. This can reduce the administrative burden and legal costs.
- Timeliness in Execution of Jurisdictional Wills: A jurisdictional will can be drafted and executed more quickly than global wills, making them a viable option for individuals who need to establish their estate plans promptly.
- Less potential for Delays and a Speedier Probate Process: As assets in each jurisdiction are covered by their respective wills, the probate process in each jurisdiction can run concurrently and are not interdependent. A delay in the probate process for the assets in one jurisdiction will not have an impact of the timeliness of the probate process in that of a different jurisdiction. Further, the probate process should also be faster as the local courts (and its relevant officers) will only need to concern itself with a jurisdictional will and not have to deal with the significantly greater number of cross-jurisdictional issues contained in a global will.
Disadvantage of a Jurisdictional Will:
- Inefficiency of costs: Having individual wills in various jurisdictions will necessarily mean having many more wills. In the event the distribution of the assets is similar, a testator may feel that he/she would be paying more money for essentially the same document. This, however, is arguable, as drafting a comprehensive global will, will also involving consulting professionals from various jurisdiction to ensure the global will complies with all the necessary requirements of the respective jurisdiction, resulting costs which would be comparable.
- Potential Confusion in Estate Planning and Risk of Inconsistency: Having numerous wills governing assets in various jurisdiction carries a risk that the Testator would be unable to accurately keep track of how assets in each jurisdiction are being distributed. Inconsistent instructions from different wills could lead to potential challenges in court and may even result in the invalidation of an entire will and result a situation of intestacy for the jurisdiction in question.
It is clear that both kinds of wills present their own sets of pros and cons. Whether one should have a jurisdictional will in every jurisdiction as compared to having one single global will to provide for every jurisdiction will depend on the individual’s own circumstances which include the jurisdictions involved, whether the rules/laws in 1 jurisdiction conflicts with another, et cetera. One could even opt for the middle ground solution, for e.g. having a single will that covers several jurisdictions falling within the Commonwealth (where laws and processes are largely similar), alongside having a few other jurisdictional wills that cover other jurisdictions outside the Commonwealth. Consulting with legal experts experienced in both global and local estate planning would hence, be a wise step to ensure that your legacy plan aligns with your wishes and objectives.
How can SMTP Assist you?
Having an experienced hand guiding you through the intricacies of local and international estate law is always helpful. At SMTP, our team is not only well-equipped with the wealth of expertise and knowledge to ensure a smooth and efficient estate planning journey, we also work closely with our fellow counterparts in jurisdictions worldwide to deliver a holistic estate planning solution to our clients with assets across the world.
We also believe in close engagement with our clients, paying close attention to their individual facts and circumstances, and tailoring our advice and courses of action to cater to their specific needs and requirements. SMTP’s core philosophy is to provide bespoke legal advice based on our private clients’ specific needs and requirements, as cases always differ on their fine details. Our team of dedicated staff are ever eager and prepared to assist interested parties.