National rules on inheritance vary considerably between Member States (as to who inherits, what the portions and reserved shares are, how wide the testamentary freedom is, how the estate is to be administered, how wide the heirs' liability of debts is, etc.). In cross-border inheritance cases, it is imperative to determine which court has jurisdiction to deal with the case and which law applies to the case.
A major step to facilitate cross-border successions was the adoption of new European Union (EU) rules on 4 July 2012 which will make it easier for citizens to handle the legal aspects of an international will or succession. These new rules apply to the succession of those who die on or after 17 August 2015.
The Regulation will make sure that a given succession is treated coherently, under a single law and by one single authority. In principle, the courts of the Member State in which citizens had their last habitual residence will have jurisdiction to deal with the succession and the law of this Member State will apply. However, citizens can choose that the law that should apply to their succession should be the law of their country of nationality. The application of a single law by a single authority to a cross-border succession avoids parallel proceedings with possibly conflicting judicial decisions. It also ensures that decisions given in a Member State are recognised throughout the EU without the need for any special procedure.
The Regulation also introduces a European Certificate of Succession (ECS). This is a document issued by the authority dealing with the succession for use by heirs, legatees, executors of wills and administrators of the estate to prove their status and exercise their rights or powers in other Member States. Once issued, the ECS will be recognised in all Member States without any special procedure being required.
On 9 December 2014, the Commission adopted an Implementing Regulation which establishes the forms to be used under the Succession Regulation (available here in Word and PDF format). Among these forms is the European Certificate of Succession (Word and PDF format). These forms can be used as of 17 August 2015. In the near future the e-Justice Portal will offer the possibility to fill the forms in on-line.
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom do not participate in the Regulation. As a result, succession procedures handled by the authorities of these three Member States will continue to be governed by national rules.
Matters of inheritance tax law are excluded from the scope of the Regulation.
Please click on the relevant country flags on this page to consult the factsheets concerning national succession law and procedures in each Member State. The factsheets were prepared by the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters (EJN-civil) in cooperation with the Council of the Notariats of the EU (CNUE).
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Last update: 03/07/2015