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International Wills Act

Written by: Charles A. DeGrandpre

New Hampshire has adopted the Uniform International Wills Act as a new chapter of the Revised Statutes, Chapter 551-A. This new Act is effective January 1, 1999. This new legislation is of particular interest to anyone who has property in other states or, most particularly, in foreign countries. By executing a will in conformity with the provisions of the International Wills Act, a person can make a will in New Hampshire, for example, which can be easily proved as a valid will in most other countries or states without the usual rigormaroll and paperwork that is necessary to prove a will executed here in order to govern the distribution of assets located in other countries or states. Persons who fall in this category should seriously consider redoing their present will into the form of an international will.

The background of this legislation is quite interesting. Pursuant to an international convention called the Washington Convention of 1973, any country which adopts the Convention agrees to recognize as valid in its jurisdiction a will prepared in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The United States is a party to the Convention and, thus, any state of the United States which adopts the law must recognize as a valid will in its jurisdiction a will from another state or foreign country executed pursuant to the terms of the Act. Furthermore, any will executed in the adopting state in accordance with the provisions of the Act is required to be recognized as valid in any other state or nation adopting the Washington Convention.

The drafters of the Act attempted to fashion a simplified will which would embrace the essential or common attributes of wills recognized generally throughout the many varied legal systems found internationally. Thus, the requirements are fairly simple. The will must be in writing. It need not be written by the testator and it may be written in any language, by hand or by any other means. There must be two witnesses to the will and a person authorized to act in connection with international wills as specified in the Act. New Hampshire has specified as an authorized person under the Act any person admitted to practice law before the courts of New Hampshire and who are in good standing as active law practitioners. Members of the diplomatic and consular service of the United States designated by Foreign Service Regulations are also deemed to be authorized persons under the Act.

In the presence of the two witnesses and the authorized person, the testator must declare that the document is his will and that the testator knows the contents thereof. The testator need not inform the witnesses or their authorized person of the contents of the will.

The testator must sign the will in the presence of the witnesses and of the authorized person, or if the testator has previously signed it, acknowledge his or her signature. If the testator is unable to sign, the testator may indicate in the will the reason for his or her inability to sign and the will will be valid if the authorized person makes note thereof on the will. It is also permissible for any other person present, including the authorized person or one of the witnesses, at the direction of the testator, to sign the testator’s name for the testator if the authorized person makes note of this in the will. It is not required, however, that any person sign the testator’s name.

The witnesses and the authorized person must then attest the will by all together signing in the presence of the testator. The statute includes a form of a certificate that the authorized person must complete and attach to the will. The authorized person must keep a copy of the certificate and give one to the testator.

There are other points of form that are specified, but which will not cause a will otherwise valid under the Act to become invalid. For example, the signatures should "be placed at the end of the will". If the will consists of several sheets, each sheet should be signed by the testator or, if he or she is unable to sign, by the person signing on his or her behalf or if there is no such person, by the authorized person. Also, each sheet should be numbered.

The date of the will is deemed to be the date of its signature by the authorized person. The authorized person must note that date at the end of the will.

An international will is subject to the usual rules of revocation of wills.

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