Q: I have a common situation, but with an interesting twist. I am 87, have enough money to live on but am not rich (about $300,000 or so), and get Social Security. I live in California with my granddaughter, but I also have a house in Croatia where I visit part of each year. I have a Totten trust on most of my funds and so if not for the house in Croatia I don't think I'd even need a probate. How do I pass on my house in Croatia? Do I need a will here or a will in Croatia? Can I set up a trust in California? Is this something that I need a lawyer for in California, in Croatia, or both? Thanks for your help. - Tom; Sacramento, CA
A: You have several options to handle your house in Croatia. The first option would be to make a will in Croatia to dispose of the Croatian property. This is probably the most straightforward approach, although the Croatian lawyer would need to be sure to include language stating that your Croatian will does not revoke your U.S. will. You may be able to dispose of the Croatian property in your U.S. will and have the U.S. will recognized in Croatia by having it notarized and getting an apostille.
I would strongly recommend consulting with a lawyer who is familiar with international estate planning issues and who can provide advice regarding the best course of action for your specific situation. In addition to the general issue of having your will recognized in Croatia, many civil law countries have restrictions on testamentary dispositions, so you will want to be sure to either work with a U.S. lawyer who is familiar with Croatian law or retain Croatian counsel.
You also need to consult with an attorney experienced in California estate planning. Though you may not need a revocable living trust to avoid probate, you may want a trust to name who will manage your affairs, create an ongoing trust for one or more beneficiaries, or for the incapacity planning a trust offers. Alternatively, it may be that you need a will here but not a trust, to specify your executor, who will administer your estate, and name the beneficiaries to your assets other than the Totten trust assets. Finally, you may conclude that you don't need either a trust or will since you have the Totten trust, but I recommend that you learn more about what benefits each offers to you before deciding. Don't forget your incapacity planning; you need a California general durable power of attorney and an Advance Health Care Directive, whatever you decide about your will(s) and trust.