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European Commission simplifies rules on inheritance

Date:21 OCT 2009

The European Commission has adopted a proposal intended to simplify the rules on inheritance with a cross-border dimension in the European Union.

The purpose of the common rules would be to enable easier identification of inheritance property, wherever it may be.

In addition to providing more effective guarantees for the rights of heirs, legatees and other interested parties, the proposed Regulation will allow 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 probate administrator to prove their capacity easily throughout the EU.

Vice-President of the European Commission Jacques Barrot 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 initiative does not alter the substantive national rules on inheritance. 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 inheritance property, which remain a matter of national law.

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 inheritance: 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. All assets making up an inheritance 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 inheritance matters; 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 inheritance matters.