Managing a cross-border inheritance
If someone in your family or close to you dies and you are an heir, as a general rule you can settle their inheritance (known in legal terms as succession) with:
- the courts of the EU country where the deceased last lived
- notaries of any EU country.
The authority dealing with the inheritance will usually apply the national law of the EU country where the deceased last lived – unless the deceased had made a choice of law so that the law of their country of nationality would apply to their inheritance.
Possibility for heirs to choose the court
If an inheritance issue needs to be resolved by a court, as an heir you will usually have to go to the courts of the EU country where the deceased last lived.
However, if the deceased chose the law of their nationality to apply to their inheritance and that is the nationality of an EU country you and the other heirs or parties concerned can agree to bring the issue to the courts of that EU country.
All concerned must agree on this choice of court.
Accepting or waiving an inheritance or succession
The national law that applies to the inheritance may allow you to declare before a court if you accept or waive a succession.
Under EU rules, you can make such a declaration before a court in the EU country in which you live, even if the court dealing with the inheritance is located in another EU country.
Effects of court decisions given in another EU country
However, if the party in the other EU country does not voluntarily comply with the court decision, you can apply for the decision to be declared enforceable so that the police or a bailiff can then intervene to enforce the decision.
The other party may only appeal against the recognition or enforceability of the decision for the following reasons:
- the decision is clearly incompatible with the public policy of the EU country in which it should be recognised or enforced: for example, because it is discriminatory
- the decision contradicts previous court decisions of the EU country in which it should be recognised or enforced
- any of the persons involved in the proceeding were not given a chance to prepare their defence
Decisions issued by courts in Denmark, Ireland and the UK do not benefit from these simplified rules when they need to be recognised or enforced in another EU country.
The European Certificate of Succession
If you are an heir, you may need to prove to an authority or a bank in another EU country that you are entitled to the ownership of the deceased's assets located there.
The executor of the will and the administrator of the estate may also need to prove their status to exercise their rights in another EU country.
Piotr from Poland dies in Germany while living there as a posted worker for one year.
Gosia, Piotr's wife and heir, lives in Poland and, following Piotr's death, needs to access his German bank account to pay bills and the last month of rent.
However, the bank requests an official document proving that she is Piotr's heir and is authorised to access his account. Administrative barriers thus make grief even harder to bear.
The authority of the EU country handling the inheritance or succession can provide you with a national document certifying your status as an heir, executor of the will or administrator of the estate.
Alternatively, you can ask that authority to provide you with a European Certificate of Succession.
The advantage of a European Certificate of Succession is that its effects are the same throughout the EU regardless of the country in which it is issued. A national document, on the other hand, will have different effects depending on the EU country in which it is issued; this may delay the recognition of your rights in another EU country.
In addition, the European Certificate of Succession is recognised in other EU countries without any special procedure.
You can get a European Certificate of Succession from a court in the EU country with the power to rule on the inheritance, or from another competent authority - for example, a notary - in the same country. You can appeal against a refusal to issue a European Certificate of Succession.
The authority that issues the European Certificate of Succession will keep the original and will issue certified copies to the heir, executor of the will or administrator of the estate, valid for a period of 6 months, which can be extended.
The issuing authority can modify or withdraw the European Certificate of Succession if it turns out it is not accurate.
Piotr died in Germany while living and working there temporarily. His life was however centred in Poland, where his wife Gosia and other family and friends live. This is why Polish authorities are in charge of Piotr's inheritance.
Gosia gets a European Certificate of Succession from the Polish courts. She can use it to prove to Piotr's bank in Germany that she is entitled to access his account there, and use her late husband's money to pay his bills and last month of rent.