Cross-Border Estate Planning Guide for US Expats in Panama

Planning your estate as a US expat living in Panama requires careful consideration and possibly has cross-border implications. This comprehensive guide explores the impact of living abroad on your estate plan and provides insights into key questions such as the validity of US wills in Panama. Discover alternative options like Panamanian trusts and private interest foundations that offer flexibility, simplicity, and confidentiality. Ensure your final wishes are protected with a well-informed cross-border estate plan.

Is My US Estate Plan Sufficient?

Owning Property in Multiple Countries: Administering an estate with property in multiple US states can be challenging, and the complexities increase when owning property overseas. Similar complications arise from having wills in both the US and Panama. Determining which will governs and whether they overlap requires guidance from an experienced international estate planning attorney to establish a solid plan.

Validity of US Wills in Panama One Will in Each Country

While having one will that satisfies the requirements of both the US and Panama may seem ideal, it is essential to consider potential inconsistencies and issues that could invalidate one of the wills. To ensure the recognition of a US will in Panama, it must satisfy relevant formalities and be filed with the appropriate Panama Consul. Evaluating the need for separate plans tailored to each jurisdiction may be the best approach, taking into account personal circumstances.

Will Substitutes in Panama The Drawbacks of Wills

Wills are subject to the probate process, which can be time-consuming, expensive, and result in disputes. As a result, relying solely on a will may not be the most effective strategy for estate planning.

Revocable Living Trusts

A popular option in the US, revocable living trusts can help avoid probate. Similarly, Panama offers alternative solutions known as will substitutes, including Panamanian trusts and private interest foundations.

Panamanian Trusts Similarities to US Trusts

Panamanian trusts function similarly to US trusts. They are contractual relationships that transfer personal assets to an independent entity, which manages and distributes the assets during and after the trustor’s death. Panamanian trusts offer simplicity, flexibility, revocability, and confidentiality.

Private Interest Foundations Unique Option in Panama

Private interest foundations provide greater flexibility compared to wills and can help circumvent complications related to mandatory heirs under Panamanian law. Similar to a limited liability company (LLC) in the US, a private interest foundation is a legal entity formed by donating assets. It can own property, bank accounts, assume obligations, and offers advantages in terms of estate planning.

Benefits of Panamanian Trusts and Private Interest Foundations Advantages Over Traditional Panamanian Wills

Panamanian trusts and private interest foundations offer numerous benefits. They provide simplicity and flexibility in crafting your estate plan, allow for revocability, ensure confidentiality (with exceptions for property transfers), and may offer tax benefits in Panama (subject to US tax laws).

Limited Effectiveness of Other Estate Planning Documents in Panama Considerations Beyond Wills

While powers of attorney and directives are options in Panama, their effectiveness is limited. Panamanian law automatically terminates powers of attorney upon the grantor’s death, and directives inconsistent with Panamanian laws governing intestate succession may be disregarded. It is crucial to align these documents with the legal requirements of Panama.


By addressing the unique challenges of cross-border estate planning and exploring options such as Panamanian trusts and private interest foundations, US expats living in Panama can establish comprehensive and effective estate plans. Seeking guidance from professionals experienced in international estate planning is crucial to ensure compliance with both US and Panamanian legal requirements. With a well-crafted cross-border estate plan, you can secure peace of mind and protect your final wishes for the future.

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