Worldwide: Laws And Locations: A Look At Forced Heirship Regimes And Estate Planning For Investments In Europe

Estate planning in an international context is seldom straightforward, especially when there may be family tensions. One of the most striking examples in recent years was the 2012 feud over the estate of British turkey tycoon Bernard Matthews. The dispute gave certain sections of the press a welcome opportunity to hone their literary skills ('Feathers Fly over Bernard Matthews' Turkey of a Will – Fowl Play Suspected', etc), but the serious issue was that Mr Matthews' intention to leave his French house to his long-standing partner, Odile, was thwarted by his adopted children's claim under French law to a 75 per cent share of the property.

Mr Matthews was British, but the same issues would have arisen had he been a Singapore citizen with property in France. French law says that you cannot disinherit your children and that you have to leave them a fixed share of your estate. Similar rules apply in most continental European jurisdictions. 

The question for Mr Matthews' executors (representatives executing the will) was whether French law, with its 'forced heirship' rules, applied to restrict Odile's inheritance. Until August 2015, where immovable assets (real estate) situated in France were concerned, it certainly did.

A relatively simple way of avoiding Mr Matthews' problem would have been for him to have held Villa Bolinha through a company (for instance a French SCI – Société Civile Immobilière) so that what passed under his will would have been the shares in the company rather than the property itself. This way the shares would have been classified as movables, French forced heirship provisions would have been avoided and the children would have found it much harder, if not impossible, to claim a share of the villa.

However, there would have been tax disadvantages, which is presumably why Mr Matthews (over-optimistically as it transpired) gave the children the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn't contest his wishes.

The short point is that anyone owning property in Europe needs to appreciate that local forced heirship rules may apply when they die, and also that there may well be issues in connection with the international effects of official documents issued in the course of the administration of the estate, such as grants of probate, certificates of inheritance and statutory declarations.

The good news (though not for Mr Matthews) is that had he survived until Aug 17, 2015, EU (European Union) Regulation 650/212, known as the 'European Succession Regulation', would have had come into effect.

Since that date, residents in EU countries (with the exception of the UK, Denmark and Ireland) have been faced with a single set of rules which govern the jurisdiction and applicable law in succession law matters. The new rules look primarily to the deceased's place of habitual residence, but an individual may elect that his succession should be governed by the law of his nationality (whether or not he is a national of an EU member state). The new rules also introduced a European Certificate of Succession, aimed at facilitating the administration of cross-border estates.

The key point here for Singapore citizens is that anyone with a property in Europe (again, except for the UK, Denmark and Ireland) will be able to elect themselves out of the local forced heirship regime by specifying in their will that the law of their nationality should apply (at the same time it would be necessary to note whether or not the testator is a Muslim and whether the Administration of Muslim Law Act, Chapter 3 would apply to him).

If no election is made, then the EU country where the property is situated will apply the succession law of the deceased's habitual residence. If this is Singapore, this may not be helpful as Singapore private international law will refer back to the law of the country where the property is situated (and, under the terms of the Regulation, such a referral would be accepted by that country).

Testator's national law

However, where the testator has elected for the law of his nationality to apply, the Regulation explicitly rejects any such referral, so that Singapore law (without forced heirship) should be applied by the local court.

One note of warning, though: The French system of taxing French assets held in trust means that it will usually make sense to exclude French assets (or indeed assets in most European countries) from any will incorporating trust provisions, or from any 'pour-over' will decanting the estate into a lifetime trust. It will also be important to clarify who should pay any tax payable in the country where the assets are situated.

In the Matthews case, the children argued that the French tax should be payable by the estate rather than by themselves. They lost, but the arguments were complex and expensive.

Cross-border estates are complicated and careful planning is vital to ensure that your estate goes to the people you want it to go to with the minimum of delay and opportunity for argument.

The European Succession Regulation should make things a little easier – though it will be interesting to see how continental European notaries cope with applying common law systems to the administration of European assets. Where there is an election for the testator's national law to apply, that election covers administrative matters as well as succession so that, in theory at least, the executors will be able to deal with the local formalities that up until now have been the preserve of the 'heirs'.

European notaries are unlikely to adopt the new rules with any degree of enthusiasm, and until there has been more experience of how the rules work in practice, and hopefully some guidance from decisions of the Court of Justice of the EU, there will be uncertainties and scope for disagreements. The aim of international estate planning is to identify with trusted advisers such uncertainties and keep them to a minimum.

First published in Business Times, 5th April 2016

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions