Important news for Brits with property abroad


A recent EU Regulation has come into effect across Europe with important implications for UK nationals who own property in Europe.

The Succession Regulation*, also known as Brussels IV, allows nationals of EU Member States that have adopted the Regulation, to state in their Will that the law of their nationality shall apply to the inheritance of their assets held in a foreign state. While the UK has not adopted Brussels IV, a UK national may nonetheless be able to choose that UK law shall apply to their property, providing that the property is in a state that has adopted the Regulation.

The implementation of Brussels IV should be of particular interest to UK nationals who hold property, which includes both real estate and moveable property, in jurisdictions with forced heirship rules, which includes France. By choosing English law to apply under their Will, it is possible for the local forced heirship rules to be bypassed and for English succession law to apply.

In cases where an individual holds property in more than one state and has not elected which law shall apply, Brussels IV provides a default position. The law of the place where the individual was ‘habitually resident’ at the time of death, will be the law applied to the succession of their estate. The applicable law can be UK law even though the UK has not adopted the Regulation.

The default position may be usurped in the following circumstances if the individual:

Can be shown to be manifestly more closely associated with a state other than that in which they had their habitual residence; or

Had elected for their national law to apply in their Will.

It is intended that Brussels IV will clarify the current position and avoid a conflict of laws that can arise when a national of one EU member states dies leaving property in another member state. Prior to the regulation coming into effect, a conflict of law could result in an unnecessarily protracted and costly procedure to resolve both a testate and an intestate succession. Under Brussels IV it is possible for an individual to apply a single law of succession to their property held across Europe.

Brussels IV also introduces a European Certificate of Succession as a further step to simplify cross-border succession. The Certificate will enable an individual’s personal representatives and beneficiaries to establish their status and exercise their rights without any additional formalities in other EU states.

We consider Brussels IV is a welcome development and we recommend that individuals with property in several European jurisdictions who have not considered making a Will or who have an existing Will should take this opportunity to make a Will or to review their existing arrangements.

For individuals who would not wish forced heirship laws to apply, as adequate provision may not be made for their surviving spouse or otherwise would be contrary to their wishes, now is the time to make a Will to reflect their wishes by the application of their national law.

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*EU Succession Regulation 650/2012