I live in Europe but own assets in the UK. What will happen to my estate when I die?

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Are you among the many British citizens who have retired to Spain or Portugal, but have kept your home or other assets in the UK? If so, it is important that you understand what will happen on your death.

All EU Member States, except the UK, Ireland and Denmark, apply the EU Succession Regulation, which governs cross-border or international successions of people who have died after 17 August 2015. As the UK is not bound by the Regulation, estates of British citizens who live in a Member State but hold assets in the UK may be more complex.

Which court will deal with my succession?

Under the Regulation, the court of the Member State in which you have your last ‘habitual residence’ will deal with your worldwide estate. This applies whether the assets are real estate or movable items.

Unfortunately, the Regulation does not define the concept of ‘last habitual residence’. To work this out, you need to assess your circumstances during the years leading up to your death. You’ll need to factor in how long and how often you stayed in each country, the reasons for your presence there, and where your ‘centre of interests’ is, which takes into account the full range of your social, domestic, financial, political and cultural links.

Since the Regulation does not apply in the UK, successions involving assets in a Member State as well as in the UK can give rise to problems, known as ’positive conflicts of jurisdiction’, meaning that the courts of both countries may want to deal with your succession. In order to limit this uncertainty, you should seek advice from an expert on the practical implications of the Regulation.

Which law will govern my succession?

As with the decisions as to what court deals with your succession, under the Regulation, the law of the country in which you have your last habitual residence will govern your entire succession.

If the law of a European country applies, this could also mean that some of your heirs will enjoy an enforceable right to a share of your estate, irrespective of what you may have specified in your will. This is known as ‘forced heirship’.

The Regulation does offer you another option, however. You can choose the law of your nationality (or one of your nationalities, if you hold several passports) to apply to your succession.

As this depends on your family circumstances, you should speak to an expert about making a choice of law to govern your succession.

David W Wilson TEP is a Partner/Attorney at Law at Schellenberg Wittmer in Geneva, Switzerland.


An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas, which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither STEP, the article author or their firm accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article. More