Home Costa Rica Legal TopicsWills and Estates Navigating Cross-Border Estate Planning: Avoiding Unintentional Will Revocation

Navigating Cross-Border Estate Planning: Avoiding Unintentional Will Revocation

by rpetersen

In the realm of estate planning, particularly for individuals holding assets in multiple countries, meticulous consideration becomes paramount to guarantee that each will fulfills its intended purpose without unintentionally annulling others. Specifically concerning the United States, crafting a distinct will to encompass assets situated in another country demands a keen focus on legal intricacies to avert unintended repercussions.

In Costa Rica, it is the recommended practice for expatriates residing in Costa Rica, possessing assets both locally and in their home country, to establish two separate wills. One will is dedicated solely to assets within Costa Rica, while the other, originating from their home country, remains effective for assets retained in that jurisdiction.

Distinct legal systems and varying requirements for wills exist in different countries. By formulating separate wills aligned with the laws of each jurisdiction, one ensures adherence to local regulations. This approach not only facilitates compliance but also mitigates the risk of legal complexities arising during the probate process.

The benefits of having two separate wills

Legal Compliance: Different countries have distinct legal systems and requirements for wills. By having separate wills tailored to the laws of each jurisdiction, you ensure compliance with local regulations.

Avoiding Conflicts of Law:Having separate wills helps prevent conflicts of law that may arise when dealing with assets in different countries. This can avoid legal complexities and potential disputes during the probate process.

Efficient Administration:

Separate wills can streamline the probate process in each country. Executors and beneficiaries can more efficiently navigate the legal procedures specific to the jurisdiction where the assets are located.

Protecting Local Interests:

Each country may have specific rules regarding inheritance and succession. Having a dedicated will for assets in each location allows you to address local considerations and protect the interests of beneficiaries in that particular jurisdiction.

Tax Efficiency:

Tax laws vary significantly between countries, and having separate wills enables you to consider tax implications in each jurisdiction. This can help optimize the distribution of assets to minimize tax burdens for beneficiaries.

Flexibility for Changes:

Life circumstances change, and so do assets. Having two separate wills allows for flexibility in updating and amending each will independently based on changes in assets, family structures, or personal preferences.

Privacy Considerations:

Some countries have different levels of privacy protection when it comes to probate proceedings. Having separate wills allows for more control over the disclosure of sensitive information, depending on the legal requirements of each jurisdiction.

Simplifying International Succession:

In the unfortunate event of a person’s passing, dealing with international succession can be complex. Having separate wills can simplify matters by providing clear guidance on the distribution of assets in each country.

Clearer Communication:

Separate wills can help in clearly communicating intentions regarding specific assets in each jurisdiction. This can prevent confusion among beneficiaries and reduce the likelihood of disputes.

Estate Planning for Blended Families:

If an individual has assets in different countries and has a blended family with members residing in different jurisdictions, having separate wills allows for more tailored provisions for each family unit.

Understanding the Basics of Will Revocation

In the United States, creating a will is a fundamental step to designate how assets should be distributed upon one’s passing. However, it’s essential to be aware that drafting a new will may unintentionally revoke previous ones if not done with care.

Common Pitfalls in Cross-Border Estate Planning

  1. Inconsistent Language: When creating separate wills for different jurisdictions, it’s crucial to ensure that the language used in each document is consistent. Varying terms or conflicting instructions could lead to confusion or potential challenges during the probate process.
  2. Revocation Clauses: Many wills contain revocation clauses explicitly stating that the new will revokes any previous ones. To avoid unintended revocation, individuals must be cautious about the language used in these clauses and consider legal advice to ensure they align with their intentions.

Best Practices for Cross-Border Estate Planning

  1. Seek Professional Guidance: Engaging the services of legal professionals experienced in both U.S. and international estate law is paramount. They can provide personalized advice based on the individual’s unique circumstances, helping to avoid pitfalls associated with cross-border estate planning.
  2. Clearly Define Jurisdictional Coverage: Clearly outline which assets are covered by each will based on their location. Clearly defining the jurisdictional scope helps prevent conflicts and ensures that the intended legal framework is applied to each set of assets.
  3. Regular Review and Updates: Life is dynamic, and circumstances change. Regularly reviewing and updating wills to reflect changes in assets, family structures, or legal regulations is essential. This proactive approach ensures that estate plans remain aligned with the individual’s wishes.
  4. Consider International Treaties and Agreements: Some countries have international agreements that affect estate planning. Understanding and incorporating these agreements into the planning process can provide additional layers of protection against unintentional revocation.


Cross-border estate planning requires attention to detail to  prevent unintentional will revocation. By seeking professional advice, carefully crafting wills with consistent language, and staying informed about relevant international agreements, individuals can navigate the complexities of managing assets in different jurisdictions while safeguarding their legacy and the interests of their heirs. Taking these proactive steps ensures that the intentions expressed in each will are honored.

Related Articles