Inheritance rules for British expats living across Europe could be thrown into chaos if the UK leaves the European Union.
The EU implemented a series of rules aimed at sorting out the problems caused by 450,000 cross border deaths involving 120 billion euros every year.
Although the UK, along with Ireland and Denmark, dropped out of the arrangement, the rules still affect hundreds of thousands of British expats in Europe.
EU regulations allow a certificate of succession to be issued that allows executors of wills and estates to prove their right to act and to have their decisions recognised across all member states without having to go to court.
How EU succession rules work
Although the UK continues to have inheritance issues decided by British law, British expats in Europe can elect to have their estates handled under British rules regardless of the laws of the country where they die.
However, if the UK left the EU, these arrangements may be subject to renegotiation and could leave expats at a financial disadvantage as each country has different succession rules.
Expats with assets in more than one European country would need to write a will in each jurisdiction that complies with local rules to make sure any assets are distributed as they wish rather than under local rules.
European lawyers have advised British expats to write a will in each country where they hold cash, property or investments to avoid confusion when they die.
Under the EU rules, the court of the European country where the deceased was resident at the time of death deals with inheritance and the laws of that country are applied to distributing the estate.
Quicker and cheaper for estates
“People can choose to elect the law of the country where of their nationality to take precedence instead,” said an EU spokesman.
“Court rulings in one country will be recognised by the legal system of another EU country.”
Some issues will still follow national rules, such as the shares of the estate that go to a spouse and children, property law and taxes.
“The aim is to make cross border succession quicker and cheaper for everyone,” said the spokesman. “The new rules also allow more certainty about what will happen to someone’s money and assets when they die.”