Brexit could force inheritance chaos on expats

Published:  13 Apr at 6 PM
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Should Britain vote to leave the EU, hundreds of thousands of UK expats living in EU member states could experience inheritance chaos due to anticipated changes in current EU rules.

EU rulings aimed at the problem of inheritance in cross-border deaths address an average of 450,000 fatalities annually and an amount of around 120 billion euros. The UK, Denmark and Ireland opted out of the rulings, but British expats living in EU member states are still protected by laws allowing the issuance of a certificate of succession permitting executors the proof of right to act and ensuring their decisions are legal within the EU without having to attend a local court.

Should Britain leave the EU, the right to have one’s inheritance issues judged by British law in any EU country may be discontinued. The move is likely to force renegotiation according to the laws of whichever country the deceased was living in, and could cause financial disadvantages to inheritors.

Worse still, expats with homes in two different countries will be expected to write two wills, each complying with the law in the country in which it is written. Lawyers are now advising UK expats in this situation to avoid confusion over the gifting of property, cash and investments, as EU rules now state that the laws of the country where the deceased lived will apply to the distribution of the estate.

Meanwhile, a letter from David Cameron in reply to questions asked by expatriate supporter Sir Roger Gale sets out very clearly the UK government’s message on Brexit. Briefly, the letter concerns the 15-year disenfranchisement of expats, but states that the government cannot offer any certainty about expats’ rights should Britain leave the EU.

Negotiations, it says, would need to take place regarding pension payments, access to heath care and other benefits, and the results would depend on each individual country’s response. Basically, expats would seem to be on their own should Brexit succeed
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