European regulation will change international inheritance law

European regulation will change international inheritance law

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The Legal Expat Desk (LED) is an information hub by GMW Advocaten, advising the expat community living and working in the Netherlands since 2006. LED regularly publish articles covering a wide spectrum of legal topics.

In this article: changes on international inheritance law that may affect expat homeowners in the Netherlands.

If you have assets or property in more than one European country, estate planning can prove to be complicated. Hardly any conventions have been signed in Europe regarding the devolution of estates; but things are set to change.

On August 17, 2015, a regulation will definitively take effect in Europe that directly applies in almost all EU Member States (with the exception of Denmark, Ireland and the UK). Among other things, the regulation will reduce the complexity of international estate planning.

So, anyone who has a second or holiday home in a European country (e.g. Spain) who ends up spending more time in that country than in the Netherlands would be well advised to make proper provision for their estate.

What does this change to inheritance law mean?

The regulation will apply to the estates of people who die on or after August 17, 2015. It introduces standard international rules of private law in the sphere of inheritance law, making the process of devolving and winding-up international estates far more straightforward and less expensive for EU citizens.

Current situation in inheritance law

At present, there are three basic, global principles that can apply to hereditary succession if a person has not made a will:
the deceased’s nationality
the deceased’s place of residence at the time of his or her death
the country in which the property (owned by the deceased) is situated

Currently in the Netherlands, nationality in principle determines which law of inheritance applies to the hereditary succession, but this is set to change after August 17, 2015.

Changes brought about by the European succession regulation

The introduction of the regulation will soon make it clearer which law applies within Europe to the estate of a person who dies without making a will. The regulation will only be applied if there is no clarity regarding the applicable law in a particular situation.

In principle, the law of the country in which the deceased person has his (habitual) residence at the time of death will apply. Should the deceased person demonstrably have close ties with a country other than that in which he had his habitual residence, the law of that country will be applied.


An expat with Spanish nationality lives in the Netherlands. He dies in the Netherlands without making a will. The estate is, in principle, covered by Dutch law. However, this expat with Spanish nationality conducted most of his family life in Spain and spent his holidays and many of his weekends in Spain.

In that situation, it may be that, if the expat with Spanish nationality (demonstrably) had closer ties with Spain, Spanish law will apply.

Unity principle:

Under the new rules, the location of the assets that make up the estate is no longer relevant: the regulation expressly elects the principle of unity, whereby the applicable law applies to the entire estate.

Certificate of succession:

Paperwork will also be simplified compared with the current situation. This is because the regulation also creates a European certificate of succession, without (as is currently the case) any additional authentication.


Under the new rules, in principle the court of the deceased’s habitual residence has jurisdiction. If the deceased himself has chosen to apply the law of a particular country, the heirs and any other parties concerned may agree that the courts of that country also have (exclusive) jurisdiction to decide on all matters relating to the succession.

So, if the Spaniard in the example has stated in his will that Spanish law applies, the family may decide to nominate a court in Spain to wind up the estate.

Choice of law:

Although in future you will still be able to choose which law applies to your estate in your will, that choice will be limited to the law of the country of which you have nationality. This restricts the freedom of choice that currently exists in the Netherlands.

Soon you will no longer be able to choose the law of your habitual residence in your will; however, if you made the choice before the regulation enters into force on August 17, 2015, your choice will still be valid. Naturally, this choice must have been made in accordance with the rules of international private law. An inheritance lawyer will check this for you.

Final note

A review of the inheritance law that applies to your possessions can be undertaken as part your estate planning, the process of drawing up a plan in which you make the most effective provision possible for your estate, sparing your next of kin any worry and problems.

Sieta Autar-Matawlie is a lawyer at GMW Advocaten / Legal Expat Desk in the fields of inheritance law.

legal expat desk gmw

Sieta  Autar-Matawlie


Sieta Autar-Matawlie

Sieta is employed as a lawyer at GMW advocaten in the fields of inheritance law hereditary succession.She also specialises in international inheritance family law, national and international divorces, regime, guardianship,...

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