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International succession: what is the applicable law?

Home > Inheritance and succession | Published 2020-06-19

You are the heir to a succession with an international dimension (real estate in several countries, bank accounts or corporate securities held abroad, etc.) and you are wondering about the settlement of the succession in regards to the laws of the various countries. Which law applies to the succession? Which court should be seized in case of litigation? Is it possible to choose the law that will apply to the succession? Don’t worry, Picovschi Lawyers puts its more than 30 years of experience in international succession law at your service to help you break the deadlock and resolve the situation.

How to determine the law applicable to a succession?

International mobility is such that today it is common to see a person’s assets spread over several countries, whether for professional reasons (expatriation, economic interests, etc.) or personal (marriages, place of holiday, secondary residence, etc.).The applicable rules change depending on the date the succession is opened. For successions opened before August 17th, 2015, a distinction is made between movable and immovable property. Movable property falls under the law of the country of the last domicile of the deceased and the immovable property of the law of the country of the place of location of the immovable.

While if you are the heir to an international succession opened after August 17th  2015, the EU Regulation No. 650/2012 applies. The legislator has put in place a single principle for all of property in order to put an end to potential conflicts of laws. From now on, it is sufficient to determine the last habitual residence of the deceased at the time of death and to apply the regulations on succession of that country.

In some cases, identification may be difficult. We have to look at all of the circumstances of the deceased’s life that may reveal a close and stable link with the country. A person owns a house in France where his wife and children reside. He works in Italy and bought an apartment there. He dies. What will be the country of habitual residence of the deceased? The country where he works or where his family and social life reside? It is not easy to determine which law will be applicable to the succession, because it has links with both countries.

The lawyer is there to enlighten you. His knowledge of normative texts (laws, regulations, jurisprudence, international agreements). Depending on each situation, it will determine the applicable law, the competent court, and take the necessary steps to settle the succession. The above-mentioned European Regulation provided another opportunity to remedy this uncertainty. The deceased may choose the law of the country of which he is a national to regulate his succession. This choice may have been made by a European will or certificate of succession in which reference will be made to the applicable law to the succession.

Generally speaking, these rules apply to all of the member states of the European Union except Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland. In regards to successions with third-party countries, the rules of private international law are in applied. But there may also be international or bilateral agreements between France and other countries, hence the usefulness of having a competent succession lawyer.

Changing the law applicable to the succession is possible!

As a French citizen, it is possible to apply French legislation to successions outside Europe. It will be necessary to establish that the deceased had a close and stable link with France. This is the case for a person of French nationality, even if his habitual residence is in a third-party country, or if he resided in France within five years before his death. These different rules are complex to understand and are very regularly supported by case law. This is why the assistance of an experienced lawyer will be of great help in this type of situation.

The legislator also provided for exceptions through international referral and public policy. You inherit from an Irish relative residing in Dublin with French buildings as part of his estate. If there is no will, the law of the last habitual residence will apply. However, Ireland is considered to be a third-party country following the meaning of the regulation. Referral is possible to designate the situation law for the succession of French real estate if it is not contrary to Irish private international law. Another example is that he is an Irish national, but his habitual residence is in Senegal. We must once again look at the private international law of the country of residence. In the present case, it establishes a system based on the law of the deceased’s nationality.

Second, the legislation of habitual residence must not be contrary to international public policy or to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. You are an heir of a heritage scattered in several countries and you want it to be the French law that applies to the international succession. When you are several heirs, the parties concerned may decide to conclude a choice of court clause to choose the jurisdiction of France. But it is not always easy to agree.

The regulation also provided for the judge to decline jurisdiction in favor of the second judge. You inherit from a person of French nationality whose habitual residence is Spain. You can challenge the referral to the Spanish courts and request the transfer of the dispute to the French judge who will settle all of the property of the estate. This system ensures the unity of the estate. Because of the overlapping of legislations, situations can soon seem inextricable. It is therefore essential to be accompanied by a competent lawyer. Our firm has extensive experience in estate law, including international and wealth management. Picovschi Lawyers accompanies you at every stage of the succession.

This article is available online for public information purposes. It is updated regularly, as needed. Due to the constant evolution of the laws and the legal system, we cannot guarantee that the information in this article is still applicable. We invite you to contact us with any legal questions or concerns you have regarding this topic at +33 1 56 79 11 00. In no way can this firm be held liable for articles that contain inaccuracies or are now out of date.

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