Of all the states in the country, California has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents. While not everyone living in the Golden State is a United States citizen, they can still reap the rewards of a comprehensive estate plan. However, non-U.S. citizens are not always subject to the same laws as American citizens, especially if they own property overseas or wish to be buried in their homeland. California Estate Planning Lawyer Kavesh Minor & Otis

Special Estate Planning Considerations for Non-U.S. Citizens

If you’re living in California but aren’t an American citizen, your estate plan may be affected by your circumstances—especially if you have holdings overseas or relatives in another country you want to cite as heirs.

You may need to consider, for instance, how another country’s legal system will interact with California’s. For example: while the United States and United Kingdom are both “common law” countries that recognize trusts, France and China, in contrast, are “civil law” countries that do not recognize trusts. So, if you establish a trust in California for beneficiaries in France, you may not be able to legally or easily disburse benefits because France’s civil law system only recognizes trusts for tax purposes.

You may also need to think about:

Your residency status.

If you are a nonresident alien, your estate is subject to different estate taxation rules than resident aliens. 

Your spouse’s residency status.

If you are a non-U.S. citizen married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you will not be able to gift your surviving spouse an unlimited amount of assets tax-free. 

Where you want to be buried.

If you want to be buried or cremated in California, you are entitled to do so. However, if you wish for your remains to be repatriated to your country of origin, your estate administrator may have to follow special procedures.

Where you own property.

If you own property overseas, it may be outside the purview of California law. Your estate plan, then, will have to account for an international probate in accordance with the laws of the country in which the other property is located.

Where you reside.

If you hold real property or other assets in California, your residency status may affect where your holdings and assets can and cannot be probated. This should be a major consideration for foreign nationals who own assets in California but are not California residents.

How an Attorney Can Help

A California estate planning attorney can help determine how your possessions—in-state and abroad—can be fit into a comprehensive estate plan that accounts for your needs inside the United States and overseas.

If you are married to an American citizen, for instance, you may wish to discuss qualified domestic trusts with your partner. Also known as QDOTs, these trusts help couples of different nationalities bequeath one another gifts with minimal tax penalties.

While you may have many choices to protect your legacy, your options are very much dependent on the nature and location of your assets as well as your residency status. 

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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