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In the UK, estate planning generally starts with a good will and may include the use of a trust. When you move or own assets abroad, however, things are much more complicated.

Other countries have very different rules to the UK that can affect:

  • Who your legacy goes to
  • What your heirs will pay in tax
  • When and where your legacy goes 


You may also still be liable for UK inheritance tax without realising it.

With careful planning, you can have peace of mind that your legacy will be distributed as you wish and in a way that ensures your heirs don’t pay more tax than absolutely necessary.

Who your legacy goes to

Many European countries apply ‘forced heirship’ as part of their succession law. If you live in Spain, France, Portugal, Malta or Cyprus, your legacy may be automatically divided between your spouse and children, regardless of what your will says. Such laws even apply in part in Scotland.

UK nationals may be able to override this rule through ‘Brussels IV’, the European Certificate of Succession regulation that lets you apply British law to your estate. You should seek advice to establish if this is the right approach for your circumstances and if there could be any implications for you and your heirs, particularly if you live or have property in France.

We can help you weigh up the options available to make sure your legacy goes exactly where you want it to in the most tax-efficient way.

What your heirs will pay in tax

Unlike the UK, where tax is paid before an inheritance changes hands, in many European countries it’s paid by the person receiving the legacy.

Succession tax rates vary greatly depending on your relationship with the heir:

  • In some countries, natural or adopted children and married partners pay no tax at all
  • Where there are charges, rates may be minimal with generous allowances or can be very high, depending on the country
  • Stepchildren may be treated as ‘non-relatives’ and pay significantly more tax than their siblings
  • Unmarried couples may not be recognised as family and face higher rates


Our experience and expertise in this area means we can present ways to legitimately protect your heirs from paying more tax than necessary.


When and where your legacy goes

As part of your legacy, you might want to keep some control over when your heirs receive your gift and how they can use it. For example, you could delay the timing of an inheritance until your heirs reach an age where they are likely to be financially mature. Or you could ring-fence what you leave, so it can only be used, say, for your grandchildren’s education. 

With our professional, personalised advice, you can have peace of mind that your legacy will be distributed as you wish without leaving your heirs a hefty tax bill.

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How UK inheritance tax could affect you

Even if you’re no longer in Britain and have lived overseas for many years, you could still be seen as a British domicile and therefore liable for UK inheritance tax.

Our specialist knowledge includes domicile law and how UK inheritance tax interacts with the tax in your country of residence. That means we can ensure your estate ends up in the right hands without attracting unnecessary taxes.