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Commission proposes simplification of international succession laws

16 October 2009

Draft rules governing jurisdiction and applicable law in succession cases have been released by the European Commission, four years after a green paper first recommended the move.

The proposed regulation would give the authorities in the deceased’s country of habitual residence jurisdiction to settle the succession.

It also provides that the law of that country would apply by default, but individuals will be able to opt out and choose the law of their country of nationality instead.

Decisions and authentic acts in succession matters would automatically be recognised by authorities in other member states, banning member states where assets are located from imposing additional conditions.

A European Certificate of Succession would be introduced, constituting proof throughout the EU of an individual’s capacity as heir or powers as an administrator of the succession.

The new rules would not, however, affect national laws on succession and inheritance tax, or the mechanism in some member states providing for a reserved portion of an estate for certain relatives such as spouses and children.

The regulation would also preserve the validity of gifts governed by national contract law, allowing testators to make lifetime, or inter vivos, gifts. However, the succession law determined under the regulation will dictate whether such gifts are to be restored or taken into account when sharing out an inheritance under succession law.

In such cases, to avoid confusion, testators who are nationals of a member state where lifetime gifts are irrevocable will be able to confirm their validity by choosing to have their national law apply to their succession.

Cross-border successions are estimated to be worth EUR 120bn.

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