Do you have assets overseas? Many people now own some form of assets overseas, whether it is a timeshare on the Gold Coast, shares in Apple or a UK pension. However many people often don't know how complicated it can be to deal with these assets after you die.

Different foreign inheritance laws apply

The various inheritance laws differ all around the world. You may not be able to deal with your overseas assets in the same way as you can with your assets in New Zealand.

For example, in civil law countries such as those in Europe or South America, the concept of forced heirship applies – that is the legislation sets out who gets what when you die and you have no testamentary freedom at all.

Moveable versus fixed assets

The general rule is that "moveable assets" i.e. intangible assets such as shares, bank accounts or assets that can be physically moved, such as personal chattels, are governed by the law where the owner lived when they died. However, immoveable assets, such as land or anything affixed to land, is governed by the law of the land where it is situated.

This could mean that if you owned a house in the South of France, French law applies and you would not be able to leave it to your chosen beneficiary. Instead the person named in the civil code of France would get the benefit (ownership?) of the house.

The relevant legal process that applies

Additionally, the legal process for dealing with overseas assets on death is also different depending on which country the asset is in. If your asset is located in a commonwealth country, then the New Zealand probate of your Will can be resealed in that country and the executors would then have authority to deal with the asset.

If an asset is in another non-commonwealth country however, the process can be far more difficult and expensive.


If you have assets overseas it is important that you receive the right advice both from us as your New Zealand legal adviser and from a specialist adviser in the country where your assets are. We have assisted many clients to draft their Wills and to manage their Estates where they have had a combination of New Zealand and overseas assets and we would be happy to talk to you about your situation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.