Category Archives: Essential paperwork

Relocation & Expat Resources – The moving process, essential paperwork. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture.

(Often Ignored) Expat Essentials – Writing a Will.

Yes, I know. You don’t want to think about it, much less talk about it, which is why I have been getting shifty looks from most of my expat network this week when I asked them the seemingly simple question: “Do you have a will?” Want to know how many people said “Yes”?

Two. Out of about thirty people, all of whom have high net worth, children from at least one relationship, and often dual citizenship / resident status. A little worrying, no? 

I can’t claim the moral high ground – we recently unearthed our Will, dusty from 10 years in an unmarked cardboard box in a storage container in Walthamstow. Not exactly accessible in the event of our demise, and even worse, was so out of date that the paperclip holding it together was rusty and the Feisty One was not even mentioned. So on her behalf, I am doing something about it… Here goes.

Expat essentials. Writing a will. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat family, trailing spouse, accompanying partner, global services manager, relocation service provider, destinations service provider.. you get the picture. I have a new dirty word: intestate. For those of you who have been living a carefree life of blissful indifference, it’s what happens when you don’t have a will. For non-expats, the implications are unpleasant: it gives the state responsibility and control over the division of your estate, decisions about who will take care of your dependents, the timeframe it all happens and (of course) access to a large chunk of your assets via taxes.

It’s a simple fix – a Will. It’s the document that tells those left behind what you want to happen to your dependents and estate.  Most of us overthink it, imagining a torturous process requiring three weeks of desperate hunting for title deeds and old bank statements. Nothing could be further from the truth – the best wills are simple statements of intent, which give executors something to work with and a few clues about where you have hidden your treasure. Combine that with a good estate planning lawyer and you will create a plan that saves everyone time, money and heartache at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Introducing first part of the Defining Moves “Ducks in a Row” program. Our aims are simple:

  • To inspire you to act. Right now. Because this is important.
  • To get you to the lawyer on time. We want to prompt to you think, discuss, list and plan, so that any legal advice you get is based on reality, not just the bits you could remember in the car on the way to the lawyer’s office. And make sure that when whoever prepares your will asks a question, you know the answer and are not paying $300 per hour for them to watch you think about it / argue with your spouse / try to remember whether or not you mailed the last life insurance premium.

So grab your pencil and paper, and let’s get started…


Step one: The People.

There are three groups of people you need to consider when drafting a Will;

  1. your dependents
  2. your beneficiaries
  3. your executors



These are the people who rely on you for some sort of care, support and/or protection. Traditionally, these were children still living at home, but modern families are often complicated with blended families, shared custody arrangements, adoptive children, elder relatives and even pets added to the mix. Thankfully, lawyers have seen it all before, and, even better if you have a family as nutty as mine, are sworn to secrecy…

Make of the list of those who you are responsible for, whether physically, socially, financially or legally, and the type of care you provide. Keep it simple – the rest can be figured out later – at this stage, your task is to create a comprehensive list.

Now list any special circumstances that will have to be addressed.  For many families, this may involve shared custody, child support or special needs but for expats there may also be issues of differing nationalities, citizenship and resident status that may have tax and legal implications.

For those of you with your own business, bear in mind that you may also have professional responsibility for continuity of care of clients – check your licensing organization or professional code of conduct if you are unsure.



Your beneficiaries are the recipients of your estate – usually immediate descendants, siblings, friends and charities. Typically, assets are divided equally between your children, so if you want to use a different split, make this clear to your lawyer so that they can prevent your will being subject to legal contest. Note also that laws differ about division of assets when you die intestate – half siblings, step and adoptive children are often treated differently, and the portion of the estate automatically assigned to the spouse varies widely internationally.

If you have any other people or organizations who you want to leave money to, add them to your list now.


Executors, Financial Guardians and Legal Guardians.

It’s your group of guardian angels, so pick wisely. These are people who you trust to administer your estate and make sure your wishes are carried out, to care for your dependents and to manage the finances of the beneficiaries if they are unable to do so. The roles carry huge responsibility, so discuss whether or not your intended choices are both willing and able. They can be family members, friends or lawyers; typically, lawyers are paid (and aren’t given custody of the children…) whereas family and friends are less likely to be.

Note that guardianship differs from child custody: while custody refers to the physical care provided by a parent (who may have no legal powers), legal guardianship may involve physical and/or legal custody, and continues until the child reaches adulthood or the guardian’s death. By contrast, especially in the modern family, custody is far more flexible and changes according to the situations of the parents.

Here’s where expats need to be especially careful, because the local laws may be very different to those of your home nation and custody / guardianship arrangements and next of kin may not follow familiar rules. In the UAE, for instance, if no will is in place, Sharia law prevails, meaning that assets and custody of children potentially follow the male line – your husband / partner’s parents, brothers and sisters. How is your relationship with your mother-in-law, by the way?


Step Two: The Money

Your estate is the sum total of your assets, and while many of you will be rolling your eyes that I am pointing out the obvious, I can guarantee that there will be plenty of things that you will have forgotten. The temptation is to run to the filing cabinet / junk drawer and fish out the most recent bank statement, and start noting down numbers, but don’t. Your assets are constantly changing, so you only need to include categories – current and savings accounts, property, jewelry stocks, shares, businesses, investment accounts, life insurance, digital assets (websites, videos etc) – and where those assets are held. For a starter list, click here for pdf cheat sheet.

While you are making your list, make note of who your beneficiaries are, and how they are reported. Typically, life insurance goes to the spouse, but in a world where divorce rates run at about 45%, there are a huge number of exes who are still listed as primary beneficiary. Take note, and make any necessary changes…


Step Three: The Decisions

Now that you have the information, you can start making decisions about how to pass on your legacy, human or otherwise. Your key priorities are the welfare of your dependents, so start with those and work from there.

Guardianship of dependents.

Who do you want to care for your dependents if you are no longer around to do so? Depending on the complexity of your family and the types of dependents, there may be more than one answer to this question, so set it all out clearly, naming each dependent individually. Talk to all the parties concerned before you head to the lawyer’s office – you may be surprised to hear who your children would hate to live with, or which relative is intending to move to Outer Mongolia next month – to prevent return visits. Factors that may affect your decision are not just emotional – also consider location (how will your children feel about leaving the country, for instance), age and health of potential guardians, relationship with other friends and family, support network and financial ability to provide care.

Include financial provision for your dependents and decide who you want to manage your estate for them if they are still minors. In many cases, life insurance helps to cover the cost of raising children, but once you include the cost of college education it may not go as far as you think.

Financial, legal and professional dependent provision will require discussion with your lawyer and with those who you nominate to take over; the good news is that if planned in advance, the process is straightforward (and certainly infinitely preferable to leaving your legal advisor / executor to try to unravel the mess in your absence).


Step Four: The Division

This is the fun bit, providing you have money to leave. But before you start divvying up between your offspring and the local cat protection league, here are a few pointers:

  1. Remember that your debts and liabilities (taxes, funeral expenses, etc) will be deducted from your estate before the remainder is distributed. You can offset many of these by establishing a Trust, which will will talk about in the next chapter, but for the moment, just remember to include your loans, debts and other obligations when you are cataloging your estate.
  2. Ensure that you own your assets outright before you will them away. Anything jointly owned needs careful consideration to avoid passing on a headache rather than a well-intentioned gift. If you hadn’t already discussed future plans with the co-owner(s), now is the time to do so.
  3. Now is not the time to make a point. Sure, you may have favorites, but remember that in many cases you are not just leaving behind a bequest, but a lifetime of family discord and ill-feeling – not to mention legal challenges. It may seem a lovely idea to leave the bulk of your estate to your newest grandchild/ favorite nephew or next door neighbor, but the resulting fallout can often sour the best of intentions. The same rules apply for property – find out which mementos, furniture or jewelry are most loved by your friends and family, and divide accordingly, informing all of them who has been given what. That way, any discussions, disagreements or disappointments can be directed at you, rather than unwitting recipients.
  4. While we are on the subject of leaving objects to people, think carefully about whether they want them, and the responsibility you are handing over. It’s difficult to part with things, no matter how ugly, unwanted or expensive to maintain without feeling disloyal to the person who gifted it.

Now you have done the difficult bit, it’s time to put pen to paper and make a rough outline to take to the lawyer’s office. If you are an expat, you may be advised to get legal input from both your home and host nation perspective – while the laws of your home nation usually take precedence, extended residence overseas may change the rules, so be sure to explain the situation rather than making assumptions.

You need to include:

  • Your name, and identifying details (usually your address, but if you are an expat, you will need to clarify your domicile (primary place of residence) with an experienced lawyer – it has significant tax and legal implications.
  • Names of beneficiaries; the people and organizations you want to leave your assets (whether money, housing, land, stock options, digital assets etc ).
  • The name of your executor (the person responsible for making sure your wishes are met).
  • Guardians of your dependents – Legal and physical.
  • Who gets what.
  • Your legal advisor should also include a “residual clause” that states the recipient for any assets you forgot to mention, or have been accrued since you wrote your will. “I bequeath any residue to” should take care of it.
  • Signature and date, with initials and date on every page.

Congratulations if you made it to this point- you are well on your way. In the next post, we’ll be introducing the fun stuff.. Planning your funeral, Living Wills and frustrating the tax man.

Bet you can hardly wait.


Further Resources: – Legal encylopedia – Wills – advice on writing both social media and regular wills.

UK Citizens Advice Bureau information on writing a will.

Australia. gov – Resources on wills and power of attorney

Happy Holidays – Four Secrets to Staying Sane

Today’s picture is from, run by Kate, another global nomad. I am in love with her teepees, and wish I she had been making them when the Wiggy and Feisty Ones were little..


1. Planning. In the chaos of list making, card writing and wrapping, it’s easy to forget what it is we really enjoy about the holidays, and wake up three days later with a huge sense of disappointment because we didn’t really get what we wanted. And I’m not going to start lecturing you on the ‘spirit of the season’ or how consumerism has taken over, because that’s irrelevant – it’s what makes your Holiday special that counts. So a huge Thank You to Karen McCall, who has put together her 2011 Holiday planner, a workbook for working out just what floats your holiday boat, and a financial spreadsheet to make sure that you are not underwater come the New Year. We did it in our family, and the results revolutionised Christmas. Here’s what came out:

The kids just wanted the one present that they had asked for, and a stocking of small surprises. (Big surprises have a habit of going badly wrong in our house.)

  • We all hated the turkey. (So we had egg and chips instead.)
  • We all loved the decorations, and we wanted to be at home to enjoy them.

And that was it. Seriously. It turned out that all the mad gallivanting, the overspending and the hours spent slaving over a dead bird were wasted on everyone, so now we have bagels with smoked salmon for breakfast, and spend the rest of the day eating canapes and spending time together. Bliss.

Remote Controlled Shopping. It’s not just Amazon and Ebay that can make your life easier, it’s also the supermarkets, the local retailers and Moonpig – especially when you are thousands of miles from your family. When we are home for visits, I take note of good local retailers, florists etc, and do my Christmas shopping either via email, telephone or online, which cuts out the wasted postage costs, the risk of loss and damage and doesn’t require military organization three weeks in advance.. My favorites include hampers from a local organic farm stand, a Tesco grocery delivery, and days out at local attractions. My other secret sanity saver is that I do my entire holiday food shop online and have it delivered direct to my door, while I am relaxing at home with a glass of Baileys. You need to book the time slot early, so get organized as soon as you can, and this is strictly for those who are willing to have a bit of leeway on the size of the Brussel sprouts. If you are nervous, do a test shop in advance.

Photobooks. Those of you who know me will be well aware that I consider scrapbooking one of Dante’s rings of Hell, but surprisingly, I am a fan of photobooks, for a number of reasons. Firstly, they force me (or any other family members that I can coerce) into choosing the best photos of the last year / holiday / event, and upload them to a third party site, thus ensuring that I have a record of happy days stored somewhere safe forever (I’m all for multitasking). Secondly, I love having a small, attractive, well curated selection of photos on my own coffee table. And third, once you’ve gone to the not overwhelming effort (most photobook sites are wise to the fact that most people’s attention span is no more than 20 minutes), you can share it with as many people was you wish, either by gifting them their own copies, or by sending them a link to browse through on line and buy their own should the urge take them. They are open to endless customizations – current projects of mine include family cookbooks, holiday souvenirs, and I’m thinking of a worst case scenario one with photos of our many disasters.. I use, but other good places to start are Shutterfly,  Snapfish and MyPublisher.

Cozi. I love this website. It keeps your calendars, To Do lists, a journal (I use mine for long term goal setting) and multiple other features that I have yet to discover, and displays them all on an easy on the eyes screen. The three key features that make it a miracle in my eyes are that it is incredibly easy to use (enter an event and a date in one sentence, and it works it out for you), edit and update (it syncs wirelessly with a Cozi app on your phone); once you have entered contact details for the rest of the family it automatically emails / texts them any reminders set for that event and you are able to send text messages directly from the home screen, so when inspiration or panic strikes, you can share the love without ever having to find your phone. And did I mention the best bit? It’s absolutely free.

While I write this, I have realised that I can put all the chores in the calendar, set reminders, and the entire family will receive personal text summonses. Genius. Obsessed, moi?

Happy Holidays!!


Too Much Information – The Top 5 ways we make identity theft easier..

It’s not just expats that manage most of their life online – increasingly, we are doing everything from paying bills to car registration via the world wide web. And while we all lock up our houses and cars and warn our children not to talk to strangers, we are far more trusting with the personal details we share electronically. So we have put together a list of the commonest ways we make identity theft far too easy, and security pointers that you may be missing.

1. Facebook. Oh boy. We enter our names, addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays, and then, just to make sure we really can be identified easily, we add photos. And then we tell everyone we are going on holiday, and how long we are going to be away.. It is now commonly used by employers to get an informal picture of who you are out of work, so be aware of not only what you are posting, but also what appears on your wall from friends. Once you have entered information onto your Facebook profile, it can be shared, both with Facebook ‘partners and via your friends. This means that even if you have chosen to keep your relationship with friends private, if they are not similarly inclined, that information is still publicly available. ”Tagging’ of you in photos etc, also allows anyone (known to you or not) viewing that post to see your profile and any information that is ‘public’.

What to do. Take five minutes to browse through your page, and click on the globe icon next to the various information boxes. If the information is public, you are giving everyone access to your personal details, any unflattering photos of you from 7th grade that your ex-boyfriend has posted, and photos of your children.. Need I say more? It’s also worth browsing through from another computer, to get a birds eye of view of what can be seen. Bottom line – share responsibly, and pick your friends wisely. Check out this article on for a great step by step guide.

Cellphones/Smartphones/iPads etc. If you take a look at the home screen of my iPhone, you will conveniently have access to the login pages for my bank accounts, my contacts (so that if you don’t know my mother’s maiden name, you can just text her and ask for a reminder), my Facebook and Twitter profile, and my home address and telephone number if you were in any doubt which house to burgle. And if you really wanted to add insult to injury, you could take pictures of your naked backside with the built in phone, and post them my Facebook page or send them to everyone I know.. Scary, huh? Increasingly, smart phones are used as computers, but we don’t treat them with the same amount of care, and regularly leave them sitting on tables in cafes and poking out of pockets. We want them within reach at all times, without for a moment thinking that others can reach them too..

What to do. Take care of your phone. Bear in mind that you carry half your life around in it, and think about what damage might be done if it fell into the wrong hands. Use a pass code – they can be broken, but at least you slow the process down. And while you’re at it, chose a decent one (there’s a link below for guidance, if you are struggling) and change it regularly, and then test it on your kids – my kids are able to work out all my passwords with alarming ease, whereas I have to threaten violence to get access to their iPads. Don’t use the ‘remember me’ feature (see below) for any internet applications that you use – it not only helpfully tells the criminal classes where you bank/shop/work – it gets them halfway into your account. And finally, agree with your partner that any texts for sensitive information should either be confirmed by a call or with a special code before that information is shared..

Internet browsing / Chat rooms. We have a horrible habit of using the same usernames and passwords for secure sites and social sites without thinking, making it really, really easy for hackers to access even secure accounts.

What to do. All the banking security in the world can’t protect you from your own stupidity, so follow the golden rule of not mixing business with pleasure, and use different login names, passwords and preferably email addresses for the different parts of your life.

Autofill. Ever started typing your email address, and lo and behold, the whole address magically appears? Or started buying a book from Amazon, and your billing and shipping address is automatically entered one you type the first letters? That’s the incredible convenience of autofill, which also make it equally useful for anyone using the computer after you to know all those juicy details. With your name and address, it’s not so important, but on some sites, credit card details have also been known to be appear.. Not so good.

What to do. Use a password to protect your home computers, so that if it does get lost or stolen, you at least buy a little time before the new use starts buying up Ebay. Try to avoid using public computers for online purchases, but if you can’t avoid it, use a secure third party payment site like Paypal, which keeps your credit card details secure. If you are using a site that allows autofill to remember your credit card details, notify them immediately.

Round Robin emails. You know how it works – a hilarious email comes in that you can’t resist sharing, and so add all your nearest and dearest to the list, and away it goes. And within 24 hours, your email address and that of great aunt Nellie, your hairdresser and your cousin that works for the government is winging it’s way to inboxes throughout the globe. And then you discover that it had a virus attached, and you sent to to everyone’s work email. Or that a friend of a friend of a friend works for a porn website, and now you and all your email contact list have been added as subscribers.

What to do. Have a ‘trash’ email on one of the independent email providers (Google, Yahoo and Hotmail all have free email accounts)  that you use for signing up to email lists and give out freely to people. Keep a separate private one for financial, medical and personal information, and if you are likely to be receiving highly sensitive information, don’t sync it to every device you own. Don’t send out emails to a string of addresses when the content is designed for mass forwarding – address individually, and selectively.. And don’t use work email addresses. Please.


Facebook Data Use Policy –

Paypal –

iPhone Security –

LifeHacker – How I’d hack your weak password –


The Motley Fool Guide: Set Up a Spending Plan

Money isn’t just paper, nor does it simply make up number on your bank statement. It represents security, opportunity, and freedom. But for many, it’s also a source of anxiety, frustration, and fear. Taking control of your cash flow is the fastest way to take the intimidation out of finance.

Lest you think that the answer is a strict b-u-d-g-e-t (we spell because we don’t want to intimidate), rest easily. Instead, we’re going to compile a shopping list — a spending plan that will get you closer to your dreams. We’ve even taken some worksheets from the Fool’s former personal finance service, Motley Fool Green Light, to make it easier on you. So grab a pencil and let’s go shopping.

(Note that all of the worksheets below are in PDF format.)

1. Follow your money trail.
You wouldn’t go to the grocery store without first seeing what’s in your fridge. The same should go for filling your financial pantry needs. Fill out the “Where Does Your Dough Go?” worksheet for a bird’s-eye view of your cash flow. We offer two versions, depending on how much elbow grease you have to spare.

2. Get to know your inner CFO.
Once you have a handle on your current financial empire, it’s time for some superficial soul searching. The “Financial Self-Reflection” worksheet will help you home in on your spending priorities and lead you effortlessly into the next step.

3. Make sure the basics are covered.
There are some expenses — and financial obligations — that must come first. The “Cover Your Bases” worksheet will highlight your immediate money needs and help further shape your long- and short-term spending plan.

4. Set spending priorities.
Finally, you’ll put your dreams, dollar requirements, and time frame all together on the “Set Spending Priorities” worksheet. When it comes down to the tough spending decisions, it’ll help to have an accurate and clear idea of what it’s going to take to get there. And, more importantly, it’ll tell you how close you are to the next big payoff.

School Registration – How not to do it..

Just in case you were wondering what my qualifications for giving relocation advice were, I don’t have any. What I do have, however, is an endless stream of mistakes, which I willingly share in the belief that you can learn from them. Here’s a recently unearthed rendering of a day spent navigating the US school registration requirements – not least, evidence of residence.. And no, having a $50,000 deposit and a signed contract on a house is not enough. It requires keys and a utility bill..
Up at 5 am (to allow for time difference ) to speak to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society re the mortgage letter that is now 1 month overdue. They had a priority on it on Easter Saturday, despite which it then took their Manager four days to put an already written letter in an envelope, and then POST IT TO KENYA!!!! I wouldn’t have minded, but on the Easter Saturday mentioned I got up at 1am to telephone them to make sure they had the right address in Los Angeles. Demanded offer letter be faxed and FedExed, but won’t be holding my breath.
9.30 am. Fueled by fury, I have tidied the apartment, done the ironing, shouted at the kids and made a list of phone calls to get the  ball rolling on the kids’ school applications. No answer (4th day) from the relocation counselor, no answer from school, no answer from realtor to whom the faxed offer has been sent. Poop.
 11 am. Collected cashier’s cheque for car that we were supposed to pick up yesterday evening.
 12.30 pm. Done shopping. Still haven’t found decent tea bags, Branston pickle, or Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut. Console myself with Haagen Dazs ice cream instead.
 12.35 pm.  Rang school for the 3rd time, got through. Need to speak to the District Office for Child Welfare and Attendance (uh-oh).
 12.40 pm.  Ring District Office for Child Welfare and Attendance. Kids cannot start in school until a) we have proof of physical residence in area (i.e. utility bill), therefore they have to go to school in Playa del Ray where we are currently in temporary accommodation until we close escrow. (Thanks to the C & G, this now looks like it’s going to take another two weeks at least, which means that Tom will end up going to 4 different schools in 6 months. I may as well start saving for his therapy now.) Also, I am cheerfully informed,  the local school for our extortionately priced house MIGHT BE FULL, so we may have to travel anyway. F**k!!!
 1.15 pm. Retire to the LA Food Show for a nice lunch to try and boost morale (kids in tow through all of this, obviously).
 1.30 pm.  Food arrives, phone rings. Alison, the relocation counselor is, it turns out, a member of Cabin Crew for United Airlines, hence her being unreachable. Discuss frustrations with her, so she asks whether I am still going to the 2 o’clock appointment at the school today. What 2 o’clock appointment???? Wave frantically at waitress, ask for boxes and check, fling down large wad of bills plus tip at approximate rate of $2 per minute. run out of restaurant.
 1.45 pm.  14th set of traffic lights. Am feeling strangely nostalgic about Kenyan traffic management (disinterested policeman wafting hand indiscriminately while chatting on mobile phone)
 2 pm. Pull up outside school after being shouted at repeatedly by voice on GPS, for making too many wrong turns on very windy, unfamiliar roads. People flooding out for end of school, police car sitting opposite to ensure safe parking practices. I’m buggered. Sneak up side road to make illicit U turn, get a parking space in the first bit of good luck today.
 2.03pm. Race into school, to be greeted by Kelly (who is lovely) saying the District Office has called to confirm that the school is full. S**t, bo**ocks, bu**er. Sit down and want to cry for the next hour. Very nice school Principal, about our age, and very similar (so of course she is nice, not to mention wildly attractive and with a very good sense of humour – practically a clone of us, in fact) appears. Has a word with Kelly to contact class teachers about numbers. Is charming to both the children and their now rather disheveled, tearful and wild – eyed mother. After a sotto voce conversation with Kelly ( I sense something a little illicit here – definitely the same type of conversation as our ‘never mind, we’ll just fudge the books’ ones) she announces that she does in fact, have room, and leads us into the staff room to talk about enrollment. Want to kiss her repeatedly, but restrain myself lest she reconsider.
 2.30pm. Leave the school in a state of euphoria. Accosted outside school by mother, demanding to know what had happened. I was slightly confused, having never met her before in my life, and it showed. ‘The police car!!’ Apparently, the police car was not their to supervise traffic, but actually to apprehend one of the dinner ladies who’d been spending more time cooking the books than cooking the lunches, it seems. She was led away in handcuffs, and I beat a hasty retreat while the nice police officers were otherwise engaged. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.