Changes to EU Succession rules


If you have foreign assets, the new EU Succession Regulation means that a review of your Will could well be in order

The new regulation, commonly known as Brussels IV, which came into force this summer, has been designed to simplify succession issues rules for residents of the EU.

We have summarised it here but it is very important that, if the Regulation affects you, expert professional advice is sought – and the sooner, the better.

If you have assets in more than one country, it has always been important to understand which state’s law will govern the terms of your estate upon your death.  Forced heirship (reserving shares in your estate for family members) for land and property has long been commonplace in many countries whereas under English Law you can (usually) leave assets to whomever you choose.

Of course, each country has its own rules to decide which law applies and this is known as ‘conflict of laws rules’.  The interaction of these rules – and how this can affect an estate – is complex and often unclear, with great implications for those who have an interest in property (or properties) in one or more countries.

The aim of the new regulation is to reduce the uncertainty surrounding who will inherit your estate through the introduction of common conflict of rules laws for applicable EU member states.

Under Brussels IV:

  • In countries where this Regulation applies, the default position is that the law of the member state in which the deceased was habitually resident will govern the estate. This of course means that UK nationals, who live abroad, may find their estates governed by foreign law.

Note: This default position may be overridden if the deceased was patently more connected with another country upon death;

  • A person has the freedom to choose the law of their nationality as the law to govern their estate in place of the country in which they were habitually resident;
  • Any decisions made in one country, will be recognized and enforceable in other countries.

The rules of Brussels IV apply when someone has died after the change of regulation (as of 17 August 2015), and may also change the effects of any Will made before that date.  The new regulation will apply in cases where a Will has been made, and where it has not.

The regulation not only affects who receives your estate upon your death.  It may also affect who administers your estate, how your estate is taxed, who can make claims against it and which court settles any disputes.

Finally, it is important to note that not all countries have opted in – the UK (as well as Denmark and Ireland) has not and, as such, English domestic law does not allow an individual to choose which law governs their estate, but will allow a choice made under the law of another jurisdiction.

Bishop & Sewell’s Private Client team can assist on all aspects of this change and how it might affect you personally. For more information, please call Helen Langworthy on 020 7631 4141 or email privateclient@bishopandsewell.co.uk

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