Brussels, 14 October 2009
The Commission proposes to simplify the settlement of international successions and to make the rules governing them more predictable
The Commission today adopted a proposal that should considerably simplify the rules on successions with an international dimension in the European Union. The aim is to make life easier for citizens by laying down common rules enabling the competent authority and law applicable to the body of assets making up a succession, wherever they may be, to be easily identified. In addition to providing more effective guarantees for the rights of heirs, legatees and other interested parties, the proposed Regulation will take some of the stress out of succession planning by enabling people to choose the law that will govern the transmission of all their assets. The Commission is also proposing the creation of a European Certificate of Succession enabling an heir or the administrator of a succession to prove their capacity easily throughout the EU.
Welcoming the proposal's adoption, Vice-President Jacques Barrot, the Member of the Commission for Justice, Liberty and Security said: " 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. By proposing that the place of habitual residence determine the competent authority and the law applicable by default while allowing a person to opt to have their succession governed by the law of their country of nationality, we are offering greater legal certainty and greater flexibility, enabling people to contemplate the future more serenely. As for the European Certificate of Succession, it will enable people to prove that they are heirs or administrators of a succession without further formalities throughout the EU. It brings us one step closer to a genuine European Civil Judicial Area."
The 450 000 international successions opened in the EU every year represent a considerable legacy, estimated by some to be worth more than EUR 120 billion. The rules applicable to these successions are, however, highly complex and difficult to predict. The rules governing jurisdiction and the law applicable vary considerably from one Member State to another. The result is great legal uncertainty and often distress: not just for heirs, who find themselves embroiled in legal and administrative difficulties on inheriting property in another Member State, but also for people wanting to plan their own succession.
The proposed Regulation pursues a threefold objective: to increase legal certainty by guaranteeing the predictability and consistency of the rules applicable; to offer people greater flexibility in the choice of the law applicable to their succession; to guarantee the rights not just of heirs and/or legatees but of other interested parties (e.g. creditors).
However, the initiative in no way alters the substantive national rules on successions. Issues such as who is to inherit or the share of assets going to children or spouses continue to be governed by national rules. Property law and family law in a Member State are not affected either. Nor does the proposed Regulation change the tax arrangements for assets making up a succession, which remain a matter of national law.
How will the future Regulation work?
The proposal provides for the application of 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. All assets making up a succession will thus be governed by one and the same law, thereby reducing the risk that different Member States will issue contradictory decisions. Likewise, a single authority ‑ that of the country of habitual residence ‑ will be competent for settling the succession; it will, however, be able to refer the matter to the competent authority of the country of nationality where the latter is better placed to hear the case. Lastly, there will be full mutual recognition of decisions and authentic acts in succession matters.
A European Certificate of Succession will also be created to enable a person to prove their capacity as heir or their powers as administrator or executor of a succession without further formalities. This will represent a considerable improvement on the present situation where people sometimes have great difficulty exercising their rights. The result will be faster, cheaper procedures.
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