John is a partner working within the Tax and Private Client teams at Schofield Sweeney.
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We have seen an increase in individuals who own property in jurisdictions outside of England needing to have multiple Wills to avoid potential conflicts of law. A new Regulation taking effect later this month will provide some welcome clarity to the well advised.
From 17th August 2015 a new EU Regulation seeking to harmonise the law of Wills and succession of member states in the EU comes into force.
The UK has not opted into the Regulation.
Why does this matter?
Whilst you may have a Will compliant with English law, the laws of another country in which you own an asset may result in that asset being passed on to someone other than who you had intended.
In England and Wales the concept of testamentary freedom allows you to leave your estate to whomever you choose. In many other EU states the concept of forced heirship dictates to whom an estate must pass (e.g. requiring a proportion of an estate to pass to an estranged child).
What is the solution?
For an individual dying after 17 August 2015 the Regulation intends that the law of one jurisdiction will apply to the entire estate.
The governing law will be:
But does this apply to the UK?
Whilst the Regulation does not bind the UK, it is relevant to any UK citizen who owns property in any EU member state which is subject to the Regulation (all member states other than the UK, Ireland and Denmark).
How does this affect me?
If you are a UK resident citizen who owns immovable property (e.g. a holiday home) in another EU member state (other than Ireland/ Denmark) you can elect for English law to apply to the succession of that property.
If you are a UK citizen who is resident in another EU member state, the Regulation similarly enables you to make a choice of succession law such that English law applies to the whole of your estate.
What should I do?
If you have a multi-jurisdictional estate, now is a good time to review your existing Will(s) and estate planning. It is now possible to make a choice of law election and obtain peace of mind that English law applies with the consequent benefit of testamentary freedom.
We have vast experience in dealing with complex cases and advising generally on Wills and estate planning. If you have concerns or would like to find out further information call John Feaster on 01274 377 668.