Oh sure, there are cultural differences in a marriage between a Boston girl and a Wisconsin boy (more than one might guess at first actually!), and there are different laws at play in the different states (notably, one is a separate property state while the other is a community property state), but we share US citizenship at least and as a heterosexual couple, the federal government treats us the same. My friends who have married boys from across the pond, however, should be aware of one more challenge facing their families after the cultural differences, separation from families of origin and the expensive long distance travel required to see them: estate planning for your family is a wee bit more complicated.
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that my friends married their French, British, and Irish husbands out of love, not to reenact scenes between Andi MacDowell and Gérard Depardieu in the 1990 film Green Card. For the six of you who immediately jump to mind, four of you are living and raising your children here in the United States. But let me explain what the federal government fears in terms of your family’s estate plan. Please bear with me and “go there” for a minute to that what if place… What if you should happen to die and your poor distraught husband should then decide that he doesn’t want to stay on this side of the pond anymore but instead would rather take your young children back home where his family could help him care for them?
Well then, if the government extended you and your non-US-citizen spouse (“DH”) the same benefit of delaying the payment of estate taxes until the death of your DH, then the government might not ever collect taxes owed on your estate because he might decide to just never pay them. And it might be pretty hard to track him down and try to enforce collection of those taxes. Therefore, the government has a safety plan; it will collect taxes due on your estate when you die, right then and there, just in case. The trouble is, your DH might actually need that money to help raise your minor children and pay for the continued maintenance of your family home and those annual visits across the pond, rather than to pay taxes.
Mais, ne désespérez pas! There is a better way with a funny little nickname: a “Q-DOT.” That is, a Qualified Domestic Trust. And that is the only way to get the benefit of using your family’s money for your family right away when you need it and delay paying the estate taxes until after your surviving spouse’s death. So if your darling spouse is a non-US citizen, especially if you have minor children and/or you may have a taxable estate (you might if you own your home and/or have sizeable life insurance policies), please be sure to ask your estate planning attorney for more information about whether a QDOT is right for your family.