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Successions and wills

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450 000 cross-border successions take place in the EU every year. These successions represent a considerable value, estimated at more than EUR 120 billion.

New EU rules to ease cross-border successions

Successions with cross-border elements are usually characterised by their high complexity. Succession law varies considerably from one EU country to another (find more information on cross-border successions and national legislation on the e-Justice portal). A major step to facilitate cross-border successions was the adoption on 4 July 2012 of European Union rules which will make it easier for citizens to handle the legal side of an international succession. These rules are applicable to the succession of persons who die on or after 17 August 2015. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom do not participate in the Regulation.

The need for legal certainty and simpler proceedings

The uniform rules of Regulation (EU) No 650/2012 on jurisdictionpdf, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and acceptance and enforcement of authentic instruments in matters of succession and on the creation of a European Certificate of Succession will make sure that:

  • a given succession is treated coherently, by one single court applying one single law;
  • citizens are able to choose whether the law applicable to their succession should be that of their last habitual residence or that of their nationality;
  • parallel proceedings and conflicting judicial decisions are avoided;
  • decisions relating to successions given in one EU country are recognised and enforced in other EU countries.

However, the initiative in no way alters the substantive national rules on successions.

The following issues continue to be governed by national rules:

  • who is to inherit and what share of the estate goes to children and spouse;
  • property law and family law in an EU country;
  • tax issues related to the succession assets.

The Regulation also creates a European Certificate of Succession to enable heirs, legatees, executors of wills and administrators of the estate to prove their status and exercise their rights or powers in other EU countries. Once issued, the ECS will be recognised in all EU countries without any special procedure being required.

On 9 December 2014, the Commission adopted an Implementing Regulation which establishes the forms to be used under the Succession Regulation. Among these forms is the European Certificate of Succession. These forms can be used as of 17 August 2015.

As Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom do not participate in the Regulation, succession procedures handled by the authorities of these three EU countries will continue to be governed by their national rules.

The Regulation on cross-border successions represents a considerable improvement compared to the past where people often had difficulty exercising their rights. The Regulation results in faster, easier and cheaper procedures.

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