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Wills made easier - 15/10/2009

Man writing with a fountain pen ©Reporters

Common rules proposed for cross-border inheritances.

Europeans who inherit property in another EU country often wind up entangled in red tape. Inheritance laws differ from country to country, and it is often unclear which legal system applies.

Trying to navigate this labyrinth can be costly and time-consuming. Some heirs get fed up and simply relinquish properties located in a different country.

Now the commission is proposing to simplify cross-border inheritance rights. Under the draft rules, people living abroad could choose to have their wills carried out according to the laws of their country of nationality.

Otherwise, the laws of the country where the deceased lived will apply to the entire estate, even if it includes properties or assets in another EU member.

The goal is to end contradictory rulings between the courts of several EU countries concerning the same estate. One single authority, in either the country of residence or country of origin, will deal with the entire inheritance.

The commission is also proposing to create a certificate to enable heirs and administrators of wills to easily prove their status in another country. As it is, EU countries don’t always recognise each other’s inheritance documents.

Some 450 000 of the inheritances opened in the EU every year involve an international element. The total value of these estates is estimated at €120bn a year.

Justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said the proposed legislation offers greater legal certainty and flexibility.

“It is imperative that citizens and legal practitioners be able to understand and, to a certain extent, choose the rules applicable to the assets making up a succession, wherever they may be located.”

The measure will not affect inheritance taxes, which will continue to be covered by national law, as will issues such as who inherits or how survivors share assets.

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