A mum, dad and child hold hands as they walk along a beach

EU assets and succession

Many people own assets in multiple jurisdictions and it is common for a British National to own a holiday home in say France or Spain. Some EU countries apply a system of “forced heirship” and, in the past, this has proved problematic for individuals who die owning property in those jurisdictions.

 For example, a British individual owning a French holiday home could find that after his death the ownership of the property is divided amongst family members that he did not want to benefit. By comparison, UK Succession law offers relative freedom in determining who receives your assets after your death.

This problem will be alleviated to some extent by an EU regulation (known as Brussels IV) which is due to come into effect with regard to deaths on or after 17th August 2015. Brussels IV has been described as an attempt to harmonise private international law for succession throughout the EU and will apply to assets situated in most member states with the exceptions being Denmark, Ireland and the UK who have opted-out of the new regulations.

Under Brussels IV the default position is that the law applicable to succession to an individual’s assets on death will be the law of the country in which the individual has his habitual residence at the time of death. However, the individual can elect by Will for their national law of succession to apply instead. This applies to a British person with assets in other EU countries even though the UK has not opted in to Brussels IV. Thus a British person living in the UK with a property in say France can elect for English and Welsh succession law to govern succession to all their assets including the French property. Previously French succession law and forced heirship rules would have applied to immoveable property such as a holiday home. The election can be made now and can be made in a UK Will (although it may still be advisable for you to have a Will in the jurisdiction in which your foreign asset is situated).

As with all legislation there are a number of complications, and the best course of action will always depend on individual circumstances, but it does appear that the advent of Brussels IV could make life(and death) easier for the growing numbers of British individuals with EU property.