European Commission aims to simplify cross-border succession

11 June 2012

With many in the UK leading increasingly international lives, and families living across more than one EU country for work or leisure, current rules can make it complicated when a relative who owned property outwith the UK dies. Approximately 12.3 million Europeans live in another EU country and there are around 450,000 international successions each year, valued at over €120 billion.
For example, a Scottish person may own a house, or have bank accounts in Germany. When that person dies, should Scottish or German law apply? There are different rules on jurisdiction and applicable law in the 27 EU Member States. It has been recognised that at a time of bereavement this adds an extra level of stress to family members. European Commission proposals to ease the legal burden when a family member with property in another EU country dies moved a step closer in March following a European Parliament Committee vote. Following that vote in the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, the legislation passed to the European Parliament plenary and the Council of the 27 Justice Ministers the EU for their approval. The Ministers backed the proposals last week.
Currently, different EU countries have widely differing rules. For example, France states that the country where that person was habitually resident in will have jurisdiction but if the real estate (heritable property such as houses) is in France, French law will apply. In another example, Portugal looks at the nationality the deceased held at their death. Such varied rules clearly lead to confusion.  The aim is simplification of the settlement of international successions by providing a single criterion for determining both the jurisdiction and the law applicable to a cross-border succession, which would be the deceased's habitual place of residence. In turn, the vote could now allow for the introduction of a European Certificate of Succession, which will allow people to prove that they are heirs or administrators of an estate without further formalities throughout the EU.  The idea was first put forward in proposed regulation in October 2009. People living abroad would, however, be able to opt to have the law of their country of nationality apply to the entirety of the administration of their estate.  All assets making up an estate will thus be governed by the same law, meaning contradictory decisions would become less of a problem.
A useful website has been created by the Council of Notaries of the EU to give an overview of the key differences in law from country to country.
Inksters are experienced in dealing with succession and executry matters. Please contact us for further advice and information.


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