How New York Law Deals With Foreign Wills

Individuals with dual citizenship, U.S. persons who own foreign property, foreign persons with U.S. property, and heirs of those individuals, might wonder how New York courts treat foreign wills.  This precise issue arose in 2012 in the case of Sigrid C. Lockwood in the Surrogates Court of Suffolk County.

The decedent, Sigrid C. Lockwood, had executed two wills, one in New York in December of 1951 and one in Norway in April of 1953.  The decedent frequently visited Norway, as she had a sister and friends who resided there.  The decedent told a New York attorney that she had funds in Norway that could only be spent there.  The decedent also stated that she never intended to settle down outside the United States and would never give up her U.S. citizenship.  While at the airport departing from New York to Norway in January of 1953, the decedent had told the person dropping her off that she had planned to return to the United States later that year.  The decedent died in Norway on May 11th, 1953 before she could return to the United States.  She had considerable assets in both Norway and Suffolk County, New York.

The decedent’s Norwegian will was admitted for probate in Norway by the executor, a Norwegian lawyer who represented the Norwegian heirs.  The executor of the New York will petitioned an objection to the probate of the Norwegian will.  The court dismissed the petition objecting to the probate of the Norwegian will and jurisdiction was given to the Norwegian government based on the determination that the Norwegian will was legally executed and because it was the will executed latest in time, it therefore superseded the New York will.

Individuals looking to execute multiple wills covering assets in different countries still have that option.  The most effective way of executing multiple wills is to have them drafted simultaneously with attorneys from the respective jurisdictions.  The wills should be crafted to run concurrently with one another and should only cover the property in the jurisdiction covered in the will.  Finally, so as to avoid confusion and any possible revocation, both wills should include a section referencing the supplemental will.