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Brexit: Overseas Assets


While the unexpected result of the EU Referendum has raised many questions, there is one area where the decision to leave the EU has clarified the issue – who can inherit your EU assets if you’re a UK citizen.

Writing for Spears Wealth Management, lawyer Camilla Wallace pointed out that on 17 August 2015, the EU Succession Regulation came into effect. The regulation applies to EU Inheritance laws and it aims to harmonise the approach across EU countries to deciding which state’s laws govern the succession to EU assets when someone dies.

Before then, if a person died with assets overseas and they were a national of, resident in, or domiciled in a different country, the result would be a conflict of law as the different countries sought to apply their own rules. Most countries in Europe apply “forced heirship”, i.e. family members inherit fixed portions of an estate, no matter what the will says. In the UK, there is more testamentary freedom.

The UK, Ireland and Denmark did not opt into the regulation, however the general rule is that EU assets (outside of the UK, Ireland and Denmark) will pass on in accordance to the laws of the country where the deceased was last habitually resident. If you are a UK resident and have no plans to move, you might think that the UK succession laws apply to all of your EU assets when you die, but this is not the case.

In the UK, real estate should be passed on under the laws of where it is situated. Other moveable assets – art, cash deposits and investments, say – should also be passed in accordance with the domicile of the person who has died. If UK courts don’t consider that they have jurisdiction, they refer the matter to the relevant EU court, allowing them to apply their own laws, which can include forced heirship.

Before Brexit, there was doubt about whether EU courts would accept the referral, but now that UK citizens have chosen to leave the EU, it is clear they will.

Ms Wallace does not believe this has to be bad news. The regulation permits the affected individual to request that the law of their nationality applies to all of their assets. This will override the law of any participating EU state. It also prevents the courts of an EU country accepting a referral from the UK.

Finders International offers a number of international asset services, such as medallion signature guarantees, selling UK and international shares, and probate valuations. We also look at offshore grants and reseals, which allows an executor access to assets in a different jurisdiction. To find out more, please contact us on 020 7490 4935 or email: contact@findersinternational.co.uk