Cross-border successions: what are the rights for heirs

The rules introduced by the European Union effectively simplify what are cross-border or international successions. We at Stanisci Law Firm are also at your disposal to recognise what are the rights of heirs.

Cross-border successions, what are they?

What are cross-border successions and what do they consist of? In fact, a succession consists of the transfer of the estate of a deceased person. This can include real estate such as a house or a shop, but also movable assets such as a vehicle or even bonds, bank accounts and even debts.

This type of succession involves elements from different countries. To go into more detail, we are talking about cases in which the deceased lived in a different country from his or her country of origin or owned assets in more than one country.

What the EU rules consist of ?

The numbers tell us that cross-border successions affect more than half a million families in Italy every year. The difficulty also arises from the fact that authorities in different countries may have legal competence in such cases and that the laws of different countries may also be applicable. For this reason, everything can be very costly and also lead to difficulties in decision-making.

The EU regulation lays down rules for which country’s authorities are to deal with the succession and which national law is then to be applied. In fact, the whole process is made easier by this set of rules.

The importance of planning

If there is a potential cross-border succession situation, several aspects are relevant, including, of course, planning. Usually, it should be specified, the law applied to such an inheritance is the one of the country of habitual residence of the deceased. It is not always easy to establish which one it is, especially when faced with people who travel a lot, there are several elements to be analysed:

  • Duration and regularity of stay in a country
  • Conditions and reasons for staying in a country of the deceased
  • Country where the family is located
  • Social life of the deceased
  • Country where most of the deceased’s property is located
  • Nationality of the deceased

A person may, however, choose to have the laws of a country of which he has the nationality and which is different from his country of residence apply to his succession.

It also becomes interesting to understand what  law regulates and applies to succession:

  • Identification of beneficiaries of the succession in the absence of a will
  • Transfer of property and/or assets to heirs
  • Portion of the estate allocated to children or spouse
  • Possibility to disinherit a relative
  • Power of the heirs
  • Freedom of the testator
  • Administration of assets before transfer
  • Restoration in the estate of donations made during the testator’s lifetime
  • Possible waiver
  • Division of the estate
  • Liability of heirs for debts


Another case may relate to a deceased who was not resident in an EU state when he or she was alive. The administration will come through the EU Member State where the deceased’s property is located if:

– At the time of death the deceased had citizenship of the EU Member State where the assets are located

– If he/she was not a national of the EU Member State where the assets are located, but five years have not passed since the change of residence

If, on the other hand, the assets are located in non-EU countries, it is possible that the authorities of the non-EU country will refuse to accept decisions related to the assets.


A certificate of inheritance may be necessary in this context, but what is it? This is a document that makes it possible to prove the person’s status as heir. It is requested from a court or other competent authority. As heir, therefore, one can present this certificate and have access to the deceased’s property.

If this certificate is drawn up by an institutional body in one EU member state, it will be recognised by the corresponding body in another EU state. Then there is also the European Certificate of Succession, which gives not only heirs but also legatees, executors of wills and administrators of inheritances the opportunity to do so. The cost of the certificate, it must be said, varies from country to country.

Within the European Certificate of Succession we find:

  • Generalities of the deceased
  • Generalities of the applicant
  • Personal details of all possible heirs
  • Matrimonial property regime of the deceased’s marriage or civil partnership
  • Law applicable to the succession
  • Possible drafting of a will
  • Share of each heir
  • Powers of the executor of the will

Please note that the European Certificate of Succession does not replace similar documents existing in each Member State.

Cross-border successions, our practice

At Stanisci Law Firm, we also handle cross-border successions with due care and professionalism. Thanks to our decades of experience, we provide our clients with all the tools they need to resolve their inheritance issues. We will follow you from the beginning of the deed to the development of all succession issues. If you need clarification, if you want to know more, or if you simply want an estimate, you can contact us. You will receive quick and professional answers.


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