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New EU succession law simplifies succession for those with EU assets

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Leading London law firm, Wedlake Bell LLP, is urging individuals with assets in EU member states to review their Wills ahead of a revolution in EU Succession Law.

As many holiday makers jet off to enjoy the sun in their villas in France or Italy, they should consider a new piece of legislation which will affect those with assets in the EU.
 
On 17 August 2015, the European Succession Regulation (650/2012), colloquially known as "Brussels IV", comes into effect. This ground-breaking step aims to simplify cross-border EU succession and for the first time across the EU allows individuals to choose the law governing the succession to their EU assets on death. 
 
Brussels IV provides a positive opportunity for anyone with assets in EU member states, to take control of the succession to their EU assets and their heirs’ financial future. 
 
Under Brussels IV, the default position for a UK citizen with EU assets (with the exception of those in Denmark or Ireland), is that the succession to those assets will be governed by the law of the country in which the deceased was resident when he died. However, if that country has forced heirship rules– as they do in France – this default position may not be favourable as forced heirship means that a portion of the estate must pass to certain family members, and you may, for example, wish to leave your assets entirely to a spouse. Importantly, Brussels IV allows individuals to override this default position by making an election in their Will for the law of their nationality to apply.
 
Currently, EU cross-border succession law is extremely complex. Which country's law applies depends on a multitude of different factors across EU member states. In addition, some EU member states apply forced heirship rules. Brussels IV is revolutionary as it gives all EU citizens for the first time the ability to choose the law of their nationality to govern the succession to relevant EU assets.
 
What are the benefits of Brussels IV?
 
1. Individuals have the ability to control the succession to their EU assets by making an election for the law of their nationality to apply.
 
2. UK nationals have the ability to avoid the forced heirship rules that might otherwise be applied by some EU countries, giving them freedom to leave their EU assets to whomever they wish.
 
3.The potential for lengthy and expensive legal procedures to determine which country's laws apply to particular EU assets is lessened.
 
4. The potential for disputes amongst family members cut out from inheriting certain EU assets (because of forced heirship rules) is reduced.
 
5. There is less need for multiple Wills dealing with assets in different jurisdictions; in many cases, a single Will covering all EU assets will suffice.
 
Things to think about: Are you an EU Citizen?
 
If yes, then Brussels IV could benefit you.
 
Do you have assets in different EU countries?
 
If yes, you may have the ability to override the default position under Brussels IV. An express election in your Will allows you to choose the law of your nationality to govern the succession to your EU assets, avoiding unfavourable succession regimes, such as forced heirship where certain individuals must receive a share of the estate.
 
I thought the UK had opted out of Brussels IV?
 
The UK has not opted in to Brussels IV, but this does not mean that UK citizens will not be affected. Brussels IV will impact anyone with EU assets in the countries which have adopted it (all of the EU except the UK, Ireland and Denmark).
 
What about my holiday home?
 
If you are a UK citizen with a holiday home in, for example, France, you can update your UK Will to cover the French property with an election for UK law to apply, instead of having a separate French Will for your holiday home.
 
If a UK citizen lives in an EU state, for example, Spain, the default position will be that Spanish law will apply to both their Spanish and UK assets but this can be overridden by making an express election in the Will for UK law to apply.
 
What can I do now?
 
Look at your Will now, be aware that Brussels IV may change who inherits your EU assets on death, and contact a lawyer to review your Will and advise on the best course of action.
 
Eleanor Metcalf (pictured), Head of Wedlake Bell’s Private Client Group, says: “Brussels IV provides an excellent opportunity for those with multi-jurisdictional assets to take control of their heirs' financial future. At the core of succession planning is preservation of wealth and the introduction of an EU Succession Law is a major step forward in providing certainty in Will writing for all those with assets in the EU. Making a Will is an important and often difficult step for clients and anything which simplifies cross-border succession issues and gives them the freedom to leave EU assets to whomever they wish, is very much to be welcomed. Individuals should look at what Brussels IV means for them now.”
 

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