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Cross-border estates: Estate planning for European assets

Posted by Nigel Merchant | 25-May-2023 08:58:20

Many people acquire assets across popular European destinations, such as holiday homes and bank accounts. It’s crucial to ensure that these assets are accounted for during the estate planning process. However, there is often a great deal of confusion around how to incorporate these assets into an estate plan to protect loved ones in the event of death.

Please note that there is a glossary at the end of this blog to define some of the terms mentioned. 


The importance of estate planning

Planning ahead to ensure your affairs are in order is an important task. It’s no surprise that many do not discuss the topic of death with those closest to them but doing so can help ensure that your wishes are followed and your loved ones benefit from your legacy. According to a recent survey by Brown Shipley, more than 50% of wealthy Brits have not discussed their inheritance plans with their family, and 10% of those surveyed currently have no plans to write a Will. 

When an individual passes away without a Will in England and Wales, their estate will be declared as an intestate estate, and the rules of intestacy will determine who will administer the estate and which individuals will benefit from it. This can leave the estate at risk of claims from people who believe they should be entitled. Additionally, it means that inheritance may not go to the individuals who the deceased would’ve liked to benefit.

Many steps can be taken during your lifetime to help eliminate any unnecessary stress for loved ones when the time arrives; read more about the importance of estate planning


Do you need a foreign Will for property and assets owned in Europe? 

Whilst it’s not a legal requirement to make a foreign Will that refers to your assets held abroad, it may be advisable to do so. It’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to estate planning for European assets, and professional advice from someone with experience in the relevant jurisdiction is highly encouraged.


Do I need a Will in every country I have assets?

Whether a Will is needed in every country where you have assets is dependent on your circumstances. A single Will that covers the European assets can reduce costs, as producing multiple Wills and updating them when required would involve more charges. Generally, it’s recommended to have a Will made in the countries where the assets are located; in these scenarios, it’s important to ensure that any later Wills made in a European jurisdiction do not revoke any previous Wills made in England and Wales.  


To learn about the purpose of a Will, click here to read our blog.


If I have one Will for all my assets, will this delay the administration of the estate?

If you have a single Will that covers assets both in England and Wales and abroad, this may cause a delay to the estate administration process; this is because a Grant of Probate may need to be obtained in England and Wales before being notarised/legalised for use in a foreign court. Therefore, having multiple Wills within the different jurisdictions where the assets are held may allow the estate administration process to continue without having to wait for additional documentation.

Other factors that may cause further delays to the estate administration process include issues regarding domicile, the application of different inheritance rules and treatment of assets in varying jurisdictions, and the risk of paperwork being lost in transit between jurisdictions.


Does a foreign Will revoke an English Will?

In scenarios where multiple Wills are produced for each jurisdiction, it’s important to ensure a revocation clause is included in each Will that clearly states which older Wills it revokes. For example, if you own a holiday home in Spain and opt for a separate Spanish Will, it should be clear that the Spanish Will is only applicable to your Spanish assets (and only revokes older Spanish Wills) and not your Will or assets in England and Wales.

It’s highly recommended to take advice from a professional in the country where the asset is located; this will allow them to clearly understand your domicile to best advise how the asset will be treated upon your death. Where multiple Wills exist, it’s also advisable to ensure each professional is aware of the existence of other Wills to ensure the appropriate revocation clause is included. 


Is probate required for foreign assets?

Probate, or equivalent in the country where the assets are held, may be required even if a Grant of Probate isn’t required in England and Wales. When a Grant of Probate has been obtained in England and Wales, it may be accepted in foreign jurisdictions (such as former British colonies) providing it’s resealed in the country. This can be quicker and more efficient than obtaining a new Grant altogether. When a foreign Grant is required, it’s recommended to instruct an agent in the country to obtain this document. Here at Kings Court Trust, we have trusted partners who can assist in such scenarios to obtain or reseal a Grant in the relevant jurisdiction.


Click here to read our blog on 8 life events that should trigger a Will update.


Which laws apply when making a Will with European assets?

In many European countries, there is a concept of complete or forced heirship. This means that certain individuals, such as children or spouses, are entitled to a proportion of the deceased’s estate, regardless of the Testator’s wishes detailed in a Will. Under English law, an individual has complete testamentary freedom, meaning they can elect who they wish to benefit from their estate and distribute the assets according to their wishes.

EU Succession Regulation (Brussels IV) aims to unify succession laws in most European countries, excluding the UK, Denmark, and Ireland. Despite the UK’s exit from the European Union, the regulation continues to be relevant to estates that connect the UK and an EU country where the regulation applies. The regulation allows people to choose the law of the country of their nationality or the law of the country in which they reside to apply after their death. If a British national wants English law to apply, this can be achieved by a declaration in the individual’s Will stating that the law of nationality shall apply to the succession of their estate.




The country that a person treats as their permanent home and has a substantial connection with.

Complete or forced heirship 

The rules directing that a certain portion of an individual's estate should pass to protected heirs, typically children, surviving spouse, and other relatives. These rules apply irrespective of the terms detailed in a Will.


To die without making a legally valid Will.

Rules of intestacy

The rules of intestacy outline the order of priority of who will inherit an estate when someone dies without a Will.


Those who are set to benefit from the assets in the Trust or an estate.


The person named in the Will who is responsible for administering the estate of the individual who has passed away.


The person who is appointed to administer the estate when the deceased did not leave behind a Will.

Personal Representative

The umbrella term for Executor(s) and Administrators(s).

Estate administration

The process of dealing with the deceased’s estate including all assets, debts, taxes, and distributing inheritance.


The process of obtaining a Grant of Probate, which may be required to grant the Personal Representative with the legal right to proceed with estate administration.


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Kings Court Trust is an award-winning probate and estate administration provider that provides support to families at the difficult time of losing a loved one. We offer a range of services that can take care of parts or the full estate administration process, relieving loved ones of the administrative burden. We can help with overseas assets and ensuring you have the correct Grant of Representation.

If you’re looking for practical, impartial, and informative advice about the next steps following a bereavement, please do not hesitate to call our expert team on 0300 303 9000 or email ClientServicesTeam@kctrust.co.uk.

Author: Nigel Merchant

Nigel Merchant is a Technical Manager at Kings Court Trust, where he has worked for over 15 years. Nigel has conducted over 2,000 family meetings and built up a huge amount of technical knowledge to share with partners and clients. Nigel has a calm and empathetic delivery which helps to achieve the business’ purpose of helping families to move on. Previously, Nigel worked at HSBC bank for over 25 years in the branch network, lastly as a Branch Manager and Personal Banking Manager, highlighting that customer service is a key driver for Nigel.

Topics: Estate Planning, Wills, Overseas assets