international Estate Planning

Estate Planning When Family Ties Cross Borders

Picture of By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

By: Shannon McNulty, Attorney, The Village Law Firm

Shannon's work is sophisticated and reflects her deep knowledge of the laws governing estates, taxation and child guardianship issues. Shannon approaches each client with sensitivity and compassion, understanding that many of the decisions that they will have to make can be difficult.

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At The Village Law Firm, we understand the many different shapes a family can take. As a firm in New York City, we see and meet with people from all over the world. This experience with hundreds of immigrants and people with close family members in other countries allows us to understand the particular estate planning challenges cross-border families face.

Your estate plan may take additional steps compared to any other plan, but our team can make sure your family and your children are protected.

Careful Consideration of Who Will Take Care of Your Children

All parents should have a plan for what will happen to their children when they’re gone. However, we want to caution parents against a common mistake that puts their children’s future at risk – never assume a relative who lives in another country can legally enter the U.S. in an emergency.

It won’t be as simple as having this relative fly to the U.S., pick up your child, and fly back to their home country. There are multiple hurdles that could prevent them from coming here, including the immigration or visa status of this relative and potential travel restrictions such as the ones we’ve seen with COVID-19 in recent years.  

Use a Will To Make Your Intentions Clear

Even if a family member can get to the U.S., they would have no legal authority to take your child out of the country without the approval of a U.S. court.  

Only a U.S. court has the authority to appoint a guardian for your child if you’re living in the U.S.  The court will consult your last will and testament in making this decision, so it’s important to legally document your choice of guardian in your will.  You may also want to include a letter to the court setting forth why this person is the best option for raising your child.  

If you’re not sure who to choose for your guardian, you can check out our article on choosing the right guardian for your child.

Consider a U.S. Resident for Temporary Guardianship

Even if your choice of a foreign guardian is perfectly documented, it will take time – possibly over a year – for a court to make the appointment.  This gap creates the risk that your child ends up becoming a ward of the state during this time and gets pushed into the foster care system.

Obviously, you want to do everything you can to prevent this outcome.  To protect your child during this time, you should plan for a temporary guardian in the U.S. who can step in. This person can more quickly assume the role of caring for your child while waiting for the appointment of the foreign guardian.

At The Village Law Firm, we want to protect and bring peace of mind to New York families from all walks of life. We want your children to be taken care of when you’re not able to be there, so contact our team to make sure your plan fulfills that goal. After all, it takes a village to protect your family.

For additional advice on this subject or to learn more about other important estate planning subjects, you can find informational videos on our YouTube page.

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