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Own a property abroad? You need to update your will

New rules allow Britons to forego European inheritance laws in favour of more attractive UK legislation.

 

by Michelle McGagh on Aug 19, 2015 at 08:00

Own a property abroad? You need to update your will

Families with holiday homes in Europe now have more freedom around who inherits their assets but you need to revisit your will if you want to benefit.

A change to EU succession laws make it easier for British families to pass on assets held in Europe, such as holiday homes, to whoever they choose by bypassing prescriptive inheritance laws in countries such as France and Spain.

Britain’s inheritance laws are unusual compared to the rest of Europe. When you die you can choose to leave your estate to whoever you want, whether that’s your family or the local donkey sanctuary, but in Europe there are ‘forced heirship’ rules that prescribe just who can inherit your estate and how much of it they are entitled to.

Take the example of a married couple with two children who own assets in France. If one of the spouses dies the estate does not automatically pass to the surviving spouse as it would in the UK. The surviving spouse is only entitled to a quarter of the estate and the two children inherit three-quarters of the estate between them.

George Hodgson, an estate planning specialist at Step, a professional body for those dealing with inheritance, said inheritance rules around property in France were even stricter.

If a couple with children owns a holiday home in France, on the death of the first spouse the ownership of the property transfers to the children but gives the surviving spouse the right to live there for the rest of their life, known as a ‘life interest’.

‘These were quite strict rules and applied whether you had an English will or not,’ he said.

The new rules, which came into effect on Monday, mean that English people can now opt for any assets they own in Europe to be treated under UK inheritance laws.

Check your will

Hodgson said Britons with holiday homes and other assets in EU countries need to update their wills to make ‘a choice of law’.

‘Post the rule change, your will can say you make a choice of law so that the English law is applied and you can leave [your assets] to whoever you want,’ he said.

‘You need to make sure your will makes the claim…so you may need to modify your will. This should act as a prompt to make sure if you have property in Europe to check your will and make sure it is up to date.’

Jason Porter of expat advice firm Blevin Franks said the new rules applied to those who live in the UK but have a holiday home and expats who live abroad.

‘A UK person living in France who wants their UK will to apply to their house in France, even though they are resident in France, will be allowed to elect to apply nation rules rather than residential rules,’ he said.

Porter said the UK had opted out of EU rules around succession ‘because we have this freedom of how we want assets to be passed on’ but that individuals still needed to update their wills ‘if you want the rule of nation rather than the rules of residence’ to apply to your estate.

2 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Graham D-C

Aug 19, 2015 at 14:03

This new rule issue by the E.U. is a major step forward in protecting both expat spouses especially those in second marriages, from the inheritance restricted imposed by laws of a EU country in which they are residents.

report this

Paul Stone

Aug 23, 2015 at 11:36

We have a Uk will and a Spanish will, would we need to update both wills?

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