In addition to estate succession certainty, Brussels IV has also created the European certificate of successions. The certificate will enable entitled individuals of the deceased’s estate to assert their status as legatees, executors, heirs, administrators and so on without unnecessary bureaucracy.
This should effectively remove the need to obtain a separate grant of probate, or equivalent, in each jurisdiction. As a consequence, it is hoped the certificate will make the administration of an estate easier.
However, Brussels IV does not apply to life insurance contracts, pension plans or similar arrangements (Article 1(2)) and therefore it is equally important to correctly nominate beneficiaries in a plan and seek relevant advice to ensure heirs and loved ones are fully protected.
In addition, Brussels IV typically only applies to civil law aspects of succession and does not affect the administration of public law issues such as taxes and revenue (Article 1). For example, an individual cannot choose where they will pay their taxes.
Brussels IV creates certainty for EU nationals and anyone who has assets in signatory EU countries: the deceased’s jurisdiction of habitual residence at the time of death will have jurisdiction to rule on the succession as a whole (Article 4).
Individuals will be in a position to choose whether they would prefer to have their estate administered as per the jurisdiction of their habitual residence at death or, alternatively, as per the jurisdiction of the country of which they are a national (Article 22).
Article 21 says that unless otherwise chosen, the law of the state of habitual residence at the time of death will apply to the succession. In other words, in the event that the individual fails to choose a jurisdiction, the result will be that the jurisdiction of habitual residence will follow its own administration process.
There are exceptions. If a deceased person has manifestly closer ties to another jurisdiction, Article 21 safeguards fairness by making it possible for that jurisdiction to govern the administration.
When an individual holds more than one nationality, that person can choose any of those respective nationalities. When a deceased has elected, as per Brussels IV, their jurisdiction of nationality to rule their succession, the respective parties to proceedings can agree to allow the authorities of that jurisdiction to have exclusive jurisdiction over all succession matters.
Authorities in the jurisdiction of habitual residence can also decline exclusive jurisdiction, in limited circumstances, such as when the jurisdiction is not best placed to consider the specific issue at hand.
Certificate of succession
Brussels IV has created the European certificate of succession (Article 62). The purpose of which (Article 63) is neatly summed up in recital 67: “In order for a succession with cross-border implications within the European Union to be settled speedily, smoothly and efficiently the heirs, legatees, executors of the will… should be able to demonstrate easily their status and/or rights and powers in another member state… to enable them to do so, the regulation should provide for the creation of a uniform certificate, the European certificate of succession.”
The certificate should be prepared by the member state whose courts have jurisdiction (Article 64).
It is important to note that, despite the fact that the certificate is available to benefit an individual, and remove unnecessary bureaucracy, it is not mandatory (Article 62(2)).