How to draft a will when living abroad

Q: Please identify important points to be included in a will for an American living in a foreign country with a non-US citizen spouse and dual citizenship children. The American, our son, has a pension in the foreign countries' currency. He also owns US stocks held in US brokerage accounts.
Name withheld, via e-mail

A: "This is a case where a person really needs to have an attorney draft a proper will," says Gary Schatsky, an attorney and fee-only financial planner in New York. The will should be put together in the US, by an American lawyer, he adds.

Most major overseas nations will honor properly executed US wills. But to ensure that the will goes through, your son should have a similar will drawn up by an attorney in his host country.

If the assets in your son's estate are less than $1 million, they will generally pass to the spouse tax free, under US law. If his assets are greater than that, your son's lawyer should create a "Q-dot trust," which will govern the distribution of assets abroad, Schatsky says.

Finally, make certain that all pensions or other financial accounts have a stated beneficiary, and keep records of all accounts and assets, Schatsky says.

Q: If I should pass on before my annuity is used, would the money go to my estate (I have a will), or to the named beneficiary?
M.H., via e-mail

A: "Annuities are governed by contracts, so they would pass according to the beneficiary statement," Schatsky says. Of course, if the annuity is a "life annuity," it will terminate upon your death.

Q: My wife and I recently revised our will. Should we keep it in a safe-deposit box?
R.R., Queens, N.Y.

A: Check with your bank to see what its safe-deposit box policy is when a spouse dies, especially in regard to a jointly held box. Policies vary from bank to bank.

Only put the will in a safe-deposit box if the bank allows the box to be opened instantly. If the box is closed by the bank for a set amount of time, then the surviving spouse will have to wait to obtain the will.

If the box is not easily accessible, put the will in someone else's box, or keep it with the lawyer who drafted it.

Q: Is the information firm Morningstar Inc. in any way linked to Morningstar Foods, which puts out meatless products?
D.W., via e-mail

A: There is no link. They are different companies.:

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