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May 7, 2013

How do you solve a problem like ♪…a Globe Trotting Client?

by contributor
pro bono abroad
Learn what questions your expat clients haven’t thought to ask and about the upcoming CLE that will provide some answers.

Maria (The Sound of Music) was not the problem.

The problem was that Maria did not fit within the narrow confines of the box she was put in.

This is true of international clients. Typically, they have obtained some basic estate planning and tax advice at some stage of their lives. They may also have a very general idea of family law in their own state/country. However, what do they know about the laws in the country to which they relocate? Not much.

Global employees may obtain some limited help, but often a global corporate transplant will only obtain cultural information about the new home. Human Resources  may obtain immigration assistance on behalf of the employee. There is no one venue to go to, to find out what questions one should ask, let alone find answers. This leaves expatriates exposed to unacceptable risks and leaves them with a sense of being lost in the new environment.

It is in everyone’s best interests for the foreign employee and the employee’s family to feel welcome and empowered by information. The benefit to the employee is clear. There is also benefit to the corporation; a happy employee and family may result in greater productivity by the employee and less failed expensive efforts to relocate valuable personnel. Society benefits too. Each country expects certain minimum required behaviors from those who enter its boundaries. These range from taxing requirements to the avoidance of unsocial or at worst criminal behaviors.

Better access to information about social and legal expectations in Norway may have prevented the following incident. In Norway in 2012 an Indian couple’s children were placed in foster care due to, what the couple argue, were cultural differences. The children slept with the parents and were fed by hand. This has become an international incident, now involving negotiations between the Indian foreign minister and Norwegian officials. The father, Anurup Bhattacharya, has been working as a geo-physicist for Halliburton. The couple’s visas to stay in Norway are running out. (Bhattacharya case timeline).

Questions International Persons Should Ask

Not all issues faced by transplants will have such extreme repercussions as the Bhattacharya case. However, they can be serious. Some questions international persons should be asking are: Are they subject to U.S. taxation? What about foreign taxing authorities; Do they have power to tax? Is tax deferred income, which is earned in another country, considered to be deferred as far as the U.S. IRS is concerned? What are the reporting requirements in the U.S. for foreign accounts? If their marriages break down in another country will they be subject to foreign divorce laws? If they wish to stay in the U.S. or bring relatives here, what visas should they apply for? What happens if they die in the foreign location?

This is an under-served and yet large segment of our population. They include people who travel from and to the United States.

I wish I could say that help is on the way. It will only be on the way if we, who serve the international community (which is most of us nowadays), take the time to learn enough about international laws to spot issues. If an attorney does not feel able to deal with any given international matter, he should refer it to someone who can.

I am the Chair of the KCBA International Law section and would be happy to invite speakers to our meetings. So a shout out to all you attorneys and others who have information to impart — estate planning attorneys, business attorneys, tax advisors, family lawyers, immigration attorneys, human resources, wealth management professionals and the list goes on — please join us! We look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Representing the Globe-trotting Client CLE — May 9

If you’re interested in learning the solutions to the challenges globe-trotting clients face, join Marguerite Smith and other distinguished faculty for Representing the Globe-trotting Client on May 9. 6.5 general CLE credits available. Register now for Representing the Globe-trotting Client!

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