Around 12.3 million Europeans live in another EU country and there are around 450,000 international successions each year, valued at more than €120 billion. As owners of properties – houses and bank accounts – families are confronted with different rules on jurisdiction and applicable law in the 27 EU Member States. For example, if a German citizen with a house in southern France dies, would French or German succession law apply to his property?
Today's Parliament vote may soon lead to a substantial simplification of the settlement of international successions by providing a single criterion for determining both the jurisdiction and the law applicable to a cross-border succession: the deceased's habitual place of residence. The vote also paves the way for the introduction of the European Certificate of Succession, which will allow people to prove that they are heirs or administrators of a succession without further formalities throughout the EU. This will represent a considerable improvement from the current situation in which people sometimes have great difficulty exercising their rights. The result will be faster, cheaper procedures.
Following today's vote in the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, the legislation will now pass to the European Parliament plenary and the Council of the 27 Justice Ministers the EU for their approval.
"The death of a family member is a sad and traumatic event, without additional legal headaches," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, the Commission’s Vice-President. "Today's vote of the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee is a major step toward providing legal certainty for thousands of families confronted with international successions. In the interests of the more than 12 million EU citizens potentially affected by the new EU law on international successions, I hope that Parliament and Council will be able to come to a final agreement soon. Notably, the European Certificate of Succession would substantially facilitate the legal formalities for successions in cross-border situations."
On 14 October 2009, the Commission proposed a Regulation to simplify the settlement of international successions (see IP/09/1508). Under the Regulation, there would be a single criterion for determining both the jurisdiction of the authorities and the law applicable to a cross-border succession: the deceased's habitual place of residence. People living abroad will, however, be able to opt to have the law of their country of nationality apply to the entirety of their succession.
There are around 4.5 million successions a year in the EU, of which about 10% have an international dimension. These successions are valued at about €123 billion a year.
The rules applicable to international successions are highly complex and difficult to predict. The rules governing jurisdiction and the law applicable vary considerably from one Member State to another. This leads to great legal uncertainty and distress for people who want to plan their succession and their heirs, or who may become embroiled in legal and administrative difficulties on inheriting property in another Member State.
To help citizens become better informed about these laws, the Council of Notaries of the EU has created a website (www.successions-europe.eu), with the support of the European Commission, in 22 EU languages plus Croatian.
The proposal for a Regulation that facilitates international successions is a concrete example of how the EU works towards creating an area of justice that will ease citizens' daily lives, as set out by Vice-President Reding on 20 April 2010 in an Action Plan for 2010-2014 as well as in the EU Citizenship Report 2010 (see IP/10/1390).
For more information
European Commission – Family matters and successions;
Justice Directorate General Newsroom;
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner