After many years of negotiations, European Parliament issued the EU Regulation 650/2012 on “jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and acceptance and enforcement of authentic instruments in matters of succession and on the creation of a European Certificate of Succession”, adopted on 4th July 2012.

The principle upon which it is based is to facilitate the free movement of persons within the EU by removing the obstacles faced in cross-border successions. In particular it provides certainty as to which law will govern a succession and will also enable people to choose the law to govern their succession. It will be applied to both testate successions (where a Will has been drawn up) and intestate successions (where there is no Will). Some fields, as for example tax matters, will be excluded.

The Regulation provides a general principle: 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” unless the deceased (before his death) chose the law of the State to be applied. In any case whatever law will be chosen, it will govern the succession as a whole. The habitual residence should be interpreted as a close and stable connection with the State concerned, with an overall evaluation of the circumstances of the life of the deceased during the years preceding his death and at the time of his death, taking account for example the duration and regularity of the deceased’s presence in the State concerned, the grounds for that presence.

Finally the new Regulation will give birth to a European Certificate of Succession which will make it easier for heirs to call upon their rights in another member state, or even for an executor of the will to exercise his powers in another member state.

It will be possible to use the new Certificate to demonstrate:

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  • the status and the rights of each heir mentioned in the Certificate and his/her correspondent quota of assets;
  • the attribution of a specific property part of the estate to the heir/s mentioned in the Certificate;
  • the authority of the person mentioned in the Certificate to execute the will and administer the estate.

The Regulation will apply to the succession of people who will die on or after 17th August 2015. Nevertheless there are transitional provisions now in force, according to which if a person chooses the succession law which will be applicable prior to 17th August 2015, that choice may be valid, provided that it will comply with the provisions of the Regulation.

The Regulation is binding on all 27 EU member states except for the UK, Ireland and Denmark, although the UK and Ireland do have the option to opt in in the future.