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Aug 18, 2023 | Trust and Estate Planning

Estate Planning Tips for Green Card Holders and US Citizens from Non-Trust Cultures


Congratulations to all lawful permanent residents and long-time green card holders of the United States! As you settle into your new life in this country, estate planning may not be a top priority. However, it is critical to make arrangements for incapacity or death, particularly if you are living far away from close relatives in your home country.

Disposition of Assets

Estate planning is essential for ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death. Without proper estate planning, your assets could be subject to the probate process of the state you are deemed to reside in. This process can be complicated, expensive, and it may result in your assets being distributed in a way that does not reflect your wishes.


It is also important to have an estate plan in place in case of incapacitation or disability. If you become incapacitated and are unable to make medical or financial decisions for yourself, having an estate plan in place (most importantly, a revocable trust, power of attorney and health care proxy) can ensure that someone you trust will be able to make those decisions on your behalf. This is especially important when you have minor children and/or your closest friends and family live outside the United States. In some cases, your home country may be a signatory of an international tax treaty with the US (income tax treaty/estate tax treaty) which can allow you to craft a tax efficient estate plan.

US Planning Concepts 

Estate planning can be especially challenging for those who come from cultures where attitudes towards financial planning are very different from those in the United States.   For example, US citizens often take out mortgages or personal loans for themselves, and may loan assets to their family; however, accumulating any type of debt is discouraged in many other cultures. If you are contemplating a loan transaction, an experienced estate planning attorney may be able to work with your financial advisor to come up with a solution that you will be comfortable with.

Non-Citizen Gifting Issues

Non-US residents may face unique legal and tax issues when it comes to estate planning in the US. For example, the amount a person may gift to a non-spouse without paying gift tax may differ for non-US residents, and married couples with one non-US citizen spouse may face additional challenges due to the unavailability of the unlimited marital deduction for gifts to a non-US spouse. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you navigate the complex legal and tax issues involved in estate planning in the US and help you create an estate plan that meets your unique needs and circumstances.

Whether you are a lawful permanent resident or a long-time green card holder in the United States, you are encouraged to make estate planning a priority to protect yourself, your family and your assets. While estate planning can be complex, with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a plan that ensures your wishes are carried out and your assets are protected for your family in case of death or disability.

Learn more about Trust and Estate planning services here. Our experienced trust and estate planning attorneys in the Private Client Services practice welcome the opportunity to speak with you to discuss your goals and concerns.

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Kook Hee Lim is an attorney in the Private Client Services practice at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins with experience in a wide array of areas including trust and estates, business succession, tax, elder law and long term care, special needs and asset protection planning. She is admitted to the Bar in Massachusetts, New York and Korea.

This article is not legal advice and should not be taken as such or relied upon as legal advice.

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