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Updated : 27/09/2017

Planning your cross-border inheritance

You can choose the law of your country of nationality to apply to your inheritance

Your inheritance also know legally as succession will usually be handled by an authority - often a court or a notary – in the EU country where you last lived. This authority will in most cases apply its own national law to your inheritance.

EU rules however allow you to choose that the law of your country of nationality should apply to your inheritance – whether this is an EU country or not.

If you have several nationalities, you can choose the law of any of your nationalities.

You should express your choice of law explicitly and clearly, in a will or in a separate declaration. Your will or declaration will be considered valid if it meets the requirements of:

  • the EU country where you last lived, or
  • the law of your country of nationality, if you so choose.

When authorities can refuse to apply your choice of law

  • EU rules on inheritance do not apply in Denmark, Ireland and the UK. If your heirs decide to settle your inheritance with an authority in these countries, your choice of law may not be taken into account. However, Danish, Irish and British citizens can benefit from these EU rules and choose the law of their nationality for their inheritance if this is handled in an EU country other than Denmark, Ireland and the UK.
  • The authority of the EU country that handles your inheritance or succession can refuse to apply certain provisions of the law of your nationality if they are contrary to local public policy. For example, authorities could refuse to apply provisions if these discriminate between heirs based on their sex or on whether they were born in or out of wedlock.

What the law applicable to your inheritance will govern

The national law applicable to your inheritance, whether it is the law of the EU country where you last lived or the law of your home country, will govern the inheritance of all your assets, regardless of their location and of whether they are movable (for example, a car or a bank account) or immovable (for example, a house).

That national law will determine issues such as:

  • who the beneficiaries of your inheritance are: for example, your spouse/partner, your children, your parents
  • whether you can disinherit a family member
  • whether some parts of your estate should be reserved for certain persons: for example, your children
  • whether any gifts you made during your life should be restored to your estate before the estate is transferred to your heirs
  • the transfer of ownership of your assets to your heirs
  • the powers of your heirs, of the executors of your will and of the administrators of the estate, including conditions to sell property and pay any creditors you may have
  • who should be liable for any debts you leave behind
  • how your assets should be shared among your heirs

EU rules on inheritance do not determine which authority will handle or which law will apply to certain matters linked to succession, such as:

  • the inheritance taxes that your heirs will have to pay on your estate
  • your civil status: for example, who your last spouse was
  • the property regime of your marriage or registered partnership: that is, how your property should be divided after the death of your spouse or partner
  • matters concerning companies: for example, what will happen to the shares you own in a company

Sample story

Nigel is a British pensioner who moved to France upon retirement, where he owns a house and has been living for more than 8 years – the last 5 with his partner Anne.

As Nigel lived in France, it may be convenient for Nigel's heirs to settle the inheritance with a notary in France. French law will in principle govern Nigel's inheritance as France was the last country where he lived. French law will thus determine who is to inherit, including what shares of the estate should be reserved for Nigel's children and what are Anne's rights to the estate given that Nigel and Anne were not married.

English law gives Nigel more freedom to decide who should inherit his estate. That is why he decides to indicate in his will that English law should apply to his inheritance, and designates Anne to inherit all of his French property.

Find out about national inheritance laws

Information on procedures, beneficiaries and their shares, valid wills and much more, for each EU country:

Choose:

Managing a cross-border inheritance

Find out how your family and other people close to you can manage your inheritance if more than one EU country is involved.

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