Everyone needs an estate plan, regardless of their nationality or citizenship status. However, if you (or your spouse) are not a U.S. citizen, your legacy could be adversely affected by federal and state estate laws. Estate planning for international marriages | California Estate Planning Lawyer

Your Basic Estate Plan

The foreign spouses of U.S. citizens are still entitled to inheritances, but it’s important to know the many ways to protect your estate.

Protecting Your Estate

Write a Will

A will allows you to designate a guardian for your children, delegate the durable power of attorney to a loved one, and decide how you would like your assets to be distributed after your death.

Revise Your Beneficiary Designations

You should always revise your beneficiary designations after marriage, regardless of whether you have been married before or are married for the first time. Since beneficiary designations can override a will, it is important to ensure that your estate plan is truly comprehensive.

Establish a Revocable Living Trust

A will could help your family avoid intestacy proceedings, but it will not protect your loved ones from the challenges of California probate. Revocable living trusts are a common, affordable way of shielding your family from probate while also saving money on individual income tax.

Special Considerations for International Couples 

While a foreign spouse could still benefit from a beneficiary designation or a revocable living trust, there are certain, special rules on the transfer of wealth and assets.

Transfer Rules

You May Not Be Eligible for Unlimited Marital Deductions

When a spouse passes away, any assets they leave to a surviving spouse are typically exempt from federal estate taxes. However, this exemption is not applicable to non-U.S. citizen spouses, who may be compelled to pay federal estate taxes on their inheritance.

Your Spouse Might Have to Pay Gift Taxes

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, any gifts you give to them during your lifetime cannot be taxed. However, non-citizen spouses may only receive up to $164,000 per year in tax-exempt gifts.

Your Property Rights May Not Be Co-Equal

A surviving spouse may not be entitled to co-equal rights in a home if they cannot provide evidence of their own payment history. In such cases, the entire value of a home could be included in a taxable estate, unless the home has been transferred to the possession of a revocable living trust.

Do You Need to Speak With an Attorney About Estate Planning?

If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills, and Pasadena.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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