For a variety of reasons, it has become increasingly common today for people to own property in more than one country. Since laws between different countries can conflict, special care must be taken when preparing wills and planning for the distribution of an estate that has assets in more than one jurisdiction. One tool that could assist in this regard is an International Will.
In 1973, in Washington D.C., the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) held the Convention Providing a Uniform Law on the Form of an International Will (the “Washington Convention”). The purpose of the Washington Convention was not to invalidate or override the estate laws of signatory nations but rather to establish a system of estate planning for individuals who hold property and assets outside their country of domicile.
The Washington Convention provides for a uniform set of requirements for an International Will – a will that will be recognized as a valid form of will by courts within the countries that have adopted the uniform law regardless of where the will was signed, the location of the assets or the testator’s residence, domicile or nationality. To be valid, an International Will must meet the following criteria:
- the will may not be a disposition of more than one person;
- the will shall be in writing (may actually be handwritten or typed), it need not actually be written by the testator, and it may be in any language;
- the will must be signed in the presence of and signed by two witnesses and an authorized person (in Ontario the only “authorized persons” are lawyers);
- all signatures must be at the end of the will;
- the date of the will shall be noted at the end of the will by the authorized person;
- if the will is more than one page, each page must be numbered and the testator must sign each page; and
- if the testator is unable to sign the will, the reason shall be noted on the will.
At the end of the will, a certificate must be attached which is signed by an authorized person, attesting that the requirements and procedures for drafting and executing the International Will have been satisfied. Ontario, along with several other Canadian provinces and countries, is a contracting party to the Washington Convention.