Splitting Heirs

I am not a particular devotee of proposals from European Commission, but I did notice that the on 7th June the Commission’s proposal to simplify the settlement of international successions received the final backing of the Council of Justice Ministers. These proposals are designed to ease the legal burden for the family when somebody with property in one EU country dies in another. Once published in the EU’s Official Journal, which is expected to take place within weeks, each Member State will have three years to align its national laws so that the new EU rules on succession become effective.

As one would expect, there are now large numbers of citizens of EU member states living in other member states (over 12 million) and so anything which helps to simplify inheritance procedures with an international (that is intra–EU) element is to be welcomed. The idea behind these proposals is to provide a single criterion for determining both the jurisdiction and the law applicable to a cross-border succession: the deceased’s habitual place of residence. It is also intended that those living abroad will be able to opt to have the law of their country of nationality apply to the entirety of their succession. These proposals should allow folk to make plans for succession in full legal certainty with the added benefit that this approval paves the way for the introduction of the European Certificate of Succession. This certificate will allow heirs or administrators of a testamentary estate to prove their status as such throughout the EU without the need for further formalities. This new regime will be a great improvement on the current situation in which heirs sometimes have great difficulty exercising their rights and are (reluctantly, no doubt) obliged to become involved in inheritance proceedings in more than one country with the additional expenses and aggravation that that causes. Overall the result will be faster and cheaper procedures.

Assuming the final regulations do live up to the new rules, this is a welcome development. A British citizen living in Poland, for example, perhaps with a Polish wife and children and with property in the UK and Poland has, at present, to try to make sense of potentially conflicting legal provisions from establishing his domicile for the purposes of English inheritance law (with the associated tax implications) or whether he should have an English will or a Polish will as well has having to understand the inheritance rights which Polish law may give to certain family members who are otherwise excluded from the will. I know this because some of them ask me. On top of this there is the procedure required to have English grants of probate recognized in Poland (and vice versa). Anybody who has experience of Polish courts indentifying heirs – even on a good day and let alone bringing an international element into the mix – will be breathing a sigh of relief at the prospect of being able to fall under a single legal jurisdiction for all inheritance matters. Let’s just hope that they remain breathing long enough to benefit from the new rules.

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