An important piece of legislation, EU regulation 650/2012, comes in to effect from 17th August 2015.

If you own property in another, or more than one, participating EU States, and you have taken appropriate action before your death, you can choose either the law of the country of your habitual residence, or the law of your nationality, or one of your nationalities if multiple, to govern the succession of your whole estate.

If you die without making a choice of governing legislation, then the default position is that the succession of your estate will be subject to the law of the State where you are habitually resident. The general rule is that, “unless otherwise provided for in this Regulation, the law applicable to the succession as a whole shall be the law of the State in which the deceased had his habitual residence at the time of death (art.21).”

Clear consequences of the above is that a UK national resident in Italy at the moment of his death might see his whole succession regulated by the strict rules of the Italian legal succession, which provides for a fixed quota of the inheritance to be assigned to close family members, or “Forced Heirs” (spouse and children).

In order to benefit from the new rules, appropriate action needs to be taken. This action would be electing a State’s legislation to govern your whole estate in your Will.

The Regulation was adopted by 27 EU States. You may be aware that the UK, Ireland and Denmark have all opted out of the Regulation and you may question whether the Regulation applies to British, Irish and Danish nationals. Opting-out simply means that it is not possible to make an election say under British law for ‘foreign’ law to apply in Britain to British assets. However, it does not mean that British nationals cannot make an election under the laws of participating EU States.

Another element of the Regulation is that a European Certificate of Succession (ECS) will be issued by the country of your habitual residence. This will be recognised in all other participating EU States. This could be useful to say a British national living in Italy who also has property in France or Germany because the certificate will be recognised in all of these jurisdictions.

If you reside outside your home country, you would be well-advised to consult a lawyer specialised in Succession and European law. It is important to consider the implications of the new rules and ensure that any unwanted succession consequences are mitigated.

Finally, it is perhaps worth mentioning that the Regulation does not restrict the choice of law to EU nationals. For example a US national with property in Italy could nominate US law to apply to the succession of their Italian and or other EU property, an Australian could nominate Australian law, and so on.