Brussels IV: Navigating Cross-Border Inheritances

Brussels IV, also known as the European Union Succession Regulation, has brought significant changes to cross-border inheritance cases. Cross-border inheritance matters can be complex, involving the determination of the applicable law and the country responsible for handling the inheritance. Whether you are living in a country other than your country of origin, own assets in multiple countries, or are a beneficiary of a family member who lived in a different country, the regulations governing these inheritances are crucial. EU Regulation 650/2012, also known as Brussels IV has brought significant changes to cross-border inheritance cases. In this blog post, I will explore the implications of Brussels IV, its harmonization of succession rules, and its impact on both EU citizens and non-EU nationals.

The Genesis and Key Features of Brussels IV

Adopted in 2012 and implemented in 2015, Brussels IV aims to simplify cross-border inheritance cases within the European Union. Prior to its introduction, each EU jurisdiction independently applied rules to govern property devolution. This often led to costly conflicts of laws. However, with Brussels IV, succession rules have been harmonized among participating Member States, ensuring a unified approach. By adopting the principle of unity, one law governs the entire succession, preventing fragmentation and conflicts. Meanwhile, the principle of universality empowers individuals to choose the applicable law based on nationality or residence, specified in a will. This allows for control and certainty. Such provisions under Brussels IV bring clarity, consistency, and the ability to navigate cross-border successions with confidence.

Brussels IV: Harmonizing Succession Laws and Implications for EU Citizens

Brussels IV has significant implications for EU citizens planning their estates across EU borders. Under Brussels IV, the default position is determined by the individual’s habitual residence at the time of their death. For example, if a German national is habitually resident in Italy, Italian inheritance law will apply to their worldwide assets. It is important to note that this default position can override the provisions of a will and may enforce forced heirship rules in certain jurisdictions. To ensure compliance with their desired distribution and navigate potential conflicts, EU citizens should engage in comprehensive estate planning and consider the implications of forced heirship within their chosen jurisdictions.

Brussels IV’s Impact on Non-EU Nationals and Considerations

While Brussels IV primarily focuses on EU member states, it also holds implications for non-EU nationals who own assets within the EU. Non-EU nationals must navigate the complexities of multiple legal systems, taxation frameworks, and potential conflicts when dealing with cross-border inheritances. By explicitly stipulating their choice of applicable law in their wills, non-EU nationals can determine which country’s laws govern their cross-border inheritances. Additionally, Brussels IV offers the European Certificate of Succession, providing a valid proof of status for heirs, executors, and administrators of the estate across all EU Member States. Seeking professional advice from experts well-versed in international succession laws is essential for non-EU nationals to ensure compliance, avoid disputes, and protect their interests when dealing with cross-border inheritances.

Examples and Challenges in Cross-Border Successions

Examples help illustrate the impact and challenges in cross-border successions under Brussels IV. Let’s consider the following scenarios:

US National with Property in Italy:

Consider an American citizen who owns real estate in Tuscany. To ensure that they pass on their property according to their wishes, individuals must explicitly state their choice of applicable law in their will. Without proper estate planning, the Italian legal system may apply its own succession laws, potentially leading to a different distribution of assets than intended.

Australian Resident in the UK with Assets in Italy

Imagine an Australian citizen who has been residing in the United Kingdom for several years but owns a villa in Liguria. As an Australian national, they want to ensure that their assets are distributed according to Australian law, even though their property is located in Italy. By explicitly stating their choice of applicable law in their will, they can ensure that Australian succession laws govern their Italian property.

Canadian with Dual Irish Nationality and Assets Across Europe

Let’s consider a Canadian citizen who holds dual Irish nationality and has assets across various European countries. Given their complex international profile, it is crucial for them to navigate the intricacies of cross-border inheritances under Brussels IV. By carefully designating an applicable law in their will, they can ensure that they distribute their estate in accordance with their preferences and the chosen succession laws.

These examples demonstrate the significance of Brussels IV for individuals with cross-border assets. Whatever your situation, understanding the principles of unity and universality is essential. By engaging in comprehensive estate planning and seeking professional guidance, individuals can navigate the complexities of international successions, protect their assets, and ensure a seamless transfer to their chosen beneficiaries.


Brussels IV has brought notable changes to the landscape of cross-border inheritances, providing individuals with control, clarity, and predictability. Whether you are an EU citizen or a non-EU national, understanding the principles of unity and universality allows you to navigate the complexities of international successions. Share your experiences and insights on Brussels IV: have you encountered challenges or benefits? We invite you to join the discussion and contribute your thoughts on the impact of Brussels IV in today’s interconnected world of cross-border inheritances. If you would like to discuss your specific circumstances and estate plans, feel free to get in touch with me. I am here to provide guidance tailored to your needs. Comment below or reach out to me directly for personalized assistance.

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