The EU has this month given final approval to a regulation which will allow British expats living elsewhere in the EU the ability to choose the law of their own country over the Local Laws for inheritance rules.
There are various estimates of the amount of property owned overseas by UK citizens which includes both holiday homes and those living abroad permanently as expats. These indicate some 1.2 million homes abroad of which about 33% are in Spain and 25% are in France.
Previously, expats were restricted only to the local regulations which require that set proportions must be left to children – be they blood relatives or adopted, (in France – héritiers réservataires,) but not step-children – in a similar way to the restrictions of Scottish law. The changes mean that Britons will be allowed to leave their inheritance to whomever they wish, following UK law.
The French laws for instance, which date back to the Napoleonic era, have created much disappointment in British families abroad, particularly where couples have remarried and have children both from the marriage and from previous relationships. Well loved children, therefore, can lose out.
In practice in France, the laws mean that an only child receives at least half of the estate, two children share at least two thirds between them and three children or more share at least three quarters. No surviving heirs mean that the surviving spouse receives one quarter minimum. For these rules to be overturned, it must be clearly stated in the will that you wish for the law of the country of your nationality to apply. Interestingly, large gift sums during the lifetime of the testator are taken into account in French law.
The rules will also apply to all other European nations that opted into the regulations. As the UK and Ireland both decided not to opt in, foreign nationals living in the UK will not be able to choose the laws of their own nations in this respect.
If you are thinking of writing your will and your last residence will be abroad, be sure to clearly state that you wish for UK law to apply. Although the regulations are not in practice yet, this will ensure your will is correct when they are.
As to how to create that will, it can be written under local (eg French) or English law. Under French law, the will can be hand-written and not witnessed, although use of a notaire is recommended to ensure accuracy.
It is strongly recommended that the will be written in the local language and under the local law, to avoid the need to translate and the need to verify the validity of the document, as well as to ensure the correct terms are used.
It is important to note that these changes do not affect inheritance tax, only your ability to leave your estate to whomever you wish, in whatever proportion you wish. The changes are now in European Law, but will not apply until the summer of 2015 to allow all affected countries to adapt.
If you have the sad duty of organising the details of a will, a reliable and friendly Chartered Surveyor can assist with probate aspects in relation to valuing your property interests and often your chattels and other assets. If you need an independent surveyor to value parts of your estate, click the link below to find your local professional and have a no-obligation chat:
If you need help with being granted probate or making or executing a will, we recommend that you contact a Solicitor who is experienced in such matters to assist you.