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European succession law – Implications for heirs and testator

October 2017

Many German citizens prefer to spend their twilight years in warmer climates. Instead of holidaying in Majorca, the island becomes the centre of their lives. However, this has implications for inheritance.

A lot of Germans have once again decided to spend their summer holidays abroad. Those who not only wish to spend their vacation in sunnier climates but also want to relocate there should consider the implications this will have for inheritance.

The EU Succession Regulation has been in effect since the summer of 2015, according to which the succession law of the country in which the testator was last habitually resident apples. His or her citizenship is no longer the decisive factor. That being said, the various national succession laws can in some cases deviate significantly from one another. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that this can have serious repercussions not only for one’s finca in Majorca or cottage in Tuscany but also the rest of the testator’s assets, including real estate, securities, etc., that he or she has in Germany.

The purpose of the EU Succession Regulation is to simplify cross-border inheritance issues by providing that it is only the succession law of the country in which the testator was last habitually resident that applies, thus making it unnecessary to consider the national provisions of various countries. There are, however, also a few pitfalls that need to be observed in addition to these simplifications; the EU member states have different succession laws that can impact intestate succession, claims to a compulsory portion, gifts, usufruct entitlements as well as other aspects. For this reason, even wills that have been drawn up in Germany ought to be potentially re-examined with a view to their effectiveness.

Those who wish to relocate to a foreign EU member state should therefore familiarize themselves with local succession laws and in many cases also prepare a will to ensure that their estate is distributed in accordance with their wishes. At the same time, it should be noted that e.g. the popular form of will in Germany known as the “Berliner Testament” (Berlin will) or spousal will is not recognized in each EU member state and may be ineffective. Notwithstanding this, it is possible to provide in a will that German succession law should be applicable.

On the other hand, the EU Succession Regulation also provides room for manoeuvre that one can make shrewd use of as the case may be. When it comes to issues pertaining to inheritances, wills or contracts of inheritance, lawyers who are versed in the field of succession law can offer advice.

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