Many of our clients have assets that are abroad under English law. We commonly have to deal with holiday homes in France, Spain, or Portugal, or inherited property in commonwealth countries, like Australia or New Zealand, and occasionally somewhere more exotic like the Bahamas. But it can come as a surprise to clients to learn that Scots law is also quite different to English law, particularly in relation to inheritance and property. So that property in Scotland could be just as exotic (in legal terms at least) when preparing your Will.
An understanding of the legal system that applies where your property is held will help you work out how that property will treated for inheritance. The common law legal system we have in England & Wales has been adopted by many of our commonwealth cousins and the Republic of Ireland for example, which tend to allow a great deal of freedom: as the cliché goes; “The English can leave their property to the cat’s home”, and indeed, sometimes our clients do.
The civil law systems which govern much of continental Europe (and Scotland) however, generally treat property or immoveables (hence “immobilier” in French or “immobiliare” in Italian) in a particular way for inheritance. The general civil law principle is one of forced heirship: that is, regardless of what they might like to do, a person can be forced to leave certain property to certain inheritors, commonly their spouse and children.
If you do have property abroad you should ask yourself whether or not it is already covered by a Will, either here or abroad. If you know you do have a foreign Will, you should make sure you discuss it with us when reviewing your English Will so the two dovetail together properly. If you do not, again you should explain that you have property abroad when making your English Will with us.
For a lot of clients, if their assets do include immoveable assets abroad, having a second Will prepared by a lawyer qualified in that foreign jurisdiction may well be the best advice. Through our wealth of experience over the years we have established contacts with other lawyers who can help on some aspects of foreign law, in particular French notaires. By working together with them we can ensure the best outcomes for you: an Englishman’s French home could turn out to be his château. Otherwise you might be leaving your relatives a millstone.