Personal Finance: Ask the Experts

Get advice on money matters from The Bee's Claudia Buck and a panel of local experts

July 2, 2012
How do I leave overseas property to heirs?

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.

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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.

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