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Many UK nationals and those domiciled in the UK will hold assets, such as a holiday home, in other countries around the world, with mainland Europe still a popular choice. But how should a French or Spanish holiday home be treated in your Will?

The first question we are often asked is whether a UK Will is sufficient or whether separate Wills are needed in the country where a holiday home is held. It is not always a straightforward question to answer and will depend on your own financial circumstances, your domicile and the location of that home.

Different countries operate different legal systems, with the UK founded in ‘common law’, much of Europe in ‘civil law’ and Islamic countries often directed by ‘Sharia law’. Each will treat inheritance in different ways.

In the UK, we enjoy testamentary freedom, meaning we can leave assets to whoever we choose. In much of Europe, forced heirship rules dictate who you must leave assets to and who you cannot exclude.

The good news is that many countries will recognise the validity of an English Will and it may well be sufficient to have one Will that dictates what will happen to your worldwide estate.

However, a UK Will can make the probate process complicated and often significantly longer. Firstly, your Will needs to be approved by the relevant courts where property is held. This can often only be done once probate has been granted in the UK and a certified translation of your Will has been prepared by a suitably qualified professional.

European courts may also be unfamiliar with the English legal system and with some concepts, such as trusts and executorships, raising further complications or resulting in the Will being determined invalid.

If a UK Will is not recognised by those courts, you may find those assets distributed in accordance with the law where that asset is held.

EU legislation, European Succession Regulation (Brussels IV), was introduced to harmonise succession rules across Europe and continues to apply even though the UK is no longer part of the EU. Brussels IV can help avoid, for example, the forced heirship rules that apply across much of the EU where an English Will exists, giving you the choice of which jurisdiction will take precedence.

Difficulties can, however, still arise. Local lawyers may be unfamiliar legal concepts in the UK Will, requesting documentation that does not exist under the UK probate process (such as court-approved and certified accounts), meaning the process can grind to a halt. There are also occasions, particularly in rural areas of mainland Europe, where local lawyers refuse to deal with property according to UK law and will insist on imposing the forced heirship rules.

Having a second Will in place in the country where assets are held can often make the probate process easier and faster. A Will in the UK and a separate Will in France can, for example, proceed through probate simultaneously.

If you choose to create a second Will in the country where your holiday home is located it will need to be created by solicitors in that country, and ideally by a firm that has experience in advising UK nationals.

Bishop & Sewell has extensive experience in acting for international families and UK nationals with assets around the world. We have strong connections with law firms around the world that can advise on local legal matters including the creation of Wills.

Contact our Private Client Solicitors

If you have questions surrounding ownership of property or other assets overseas,  or are in need of advice or assistance on any of the legal issues mentioned in this article, please contact Olivia Meekin, Partner or any member of our experienced Private Client team on 020 7631 4141 or email privateclient@bishopandsewell.co.uk 

The above is accurate as at 16 February 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.



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