Why is Probate Needed in the UK if Someone Dies Overseas?

The process of administering an estate can involve a great deal of paperwork and legal documents. If the person who has died had assets overseas, this is likely to be even more the case. These types of estates are known as cross-border estates and we’ve previously written about the various ways these need to be handled.  

Obtaining a Grant of Probate is an important stage in the legal process of winding up an estate. In cross-border estates, personal representatives will often need to apply for probate in all countries in which assets are held. This may also be necessary in situations where a UK citizen has died overseas. 

In these cases, personal representatives will usually still need to apply for a Grant of Probate in the UK.

Why is probate needed in cases like these?

Simply put, a Grant of Probate is a document that certifies that a personal representative has the authority to deal with assets belonging to an estate. If an individual who has died had assets in the UK, those assets will still need to be dealt with, regardless of where the person died. 

With this in mind, it will generally be necessary to apply for a Grant of Probate from the UK government if either or both of the following conditions apply:

  1. The person who had died was legally domiciled in the UK.
  2. The person who has died held assets in the UK.

However, just as a Grant of Probate is not always required when someone has died within the UK, it might not be required if they die overseas if the assets owned by the estate do not meet the requirements.

Many banks and building societies will only require a Grant of Probate to authorise access to accounts with a balance over a certain threshold. This is often around £15,000, but can be higher. 

A Grant of Probate is always required if the estate owned property in the UK, as this is required in order to sell or transfer ownership on behalf of an estate. A Grant of Probate will also be needed if any inheritance tax is due.

How is legal domicile determined?

In some situations where someone has died overseas, it will be clear that the person was legally domiciled in the UK and that probate will be needed here. For example, this will be the case if someone who is usually resident in the UK has died during a holiday, business trip or extended international stay. 

However, the question of legal domicile might be less certain if the person who has died was permanently living abroad. The situation might also be unclear in the case of the death of someone who held dual nationality or someone who was not a UK citizen but owned property or other assets in the UK. 

Legal domicile is a concept used to determine an individual’s tax responsibilities. An individual’s legal domicile is not necessarily the same as the country they are resident in, the country they were born in or the country from which they hold citizenship. 

Instead, an individual’s legal domicile is the country they consider their permanent home, which is not necessarily the country in which they are currently resident. For example, someone might have decided to move overseas for their retirement but still consider the UK to be their legal domicile. 

If you are responsible for administering the estate of someone who has died overseas or with assets in multiple countries, you will need to determine which country they were legally domiciled in at the time of their death. 

You can read more about the concept of legal domicile in this help guide.

What support will you need in these circumstances?

If you are responsible for administering the estate of someone who has died overseas, it’s likely that you will need to seek specialist advice. A solicitor who is an expert in probate law will be able to support you through this process and ensure that nothing is missed. 

A specialist solicitor will also be able to advise you on the tax liability of the estate. This will be particularly crucial in estates of this type, as there may be tax liabilities to be considered in more than one country. 

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