International inheritance law – Applicable law in Greece
20 March 2016
National succession law varies considerably from one European Union Member State to another (e.g. concerning the capacity to inherit, inheritance portions, reserved share, the extent of freedom when drafting the will, the administration of inherited assets, the extent of heirs’ liability for debts inherited, etc.). In cross-border inheritance cases, it is necessary to determine which court has jurisdiction, as well as the applicable law.
A major step to facilitate cross-border successions has been the adoption, on July 4th, 2012, of new EU rules, which aim at making it easier for European Union citizens to handle the legal aspects of international succession. These new rules are applicable to the succession of persons deceased on or after August 17th, 2015.
The Regulation ensures that a cross-border succession is coherently treated by one single court applying one single legislation. The courts of the Member State, where citizens had their last residence, have jurisdiction over the case, and the law of that State shall be applicable. However, citizens are able to choose the law of their nationality to be applicable to their succession. When a given cross-border succession is treated by one single court under one single legislation, parallel proceedings and conflicting judicial decisions are avoided. Moreover, it is ensured that any court decisions issued in one Member State are recognized and enforced throughout the European Union without any special procedure being required.
The Regulation also creates the European Certificate of Succession. This document, issued by the competent authority dealing with the succession, may enable heirs, legatees, administrators of the estate and executors of wills to prove their status and exercise their rights or powers in other Member States. Once issued, the European Certificate of inheritance will be recognized in all Member States without any special procedure being required.
Regarding Greek Civil Law, pursuant to Article 28 of Civil Code, succession is subject to the law of the State the nationality of which the deceased held at the time of his/her death. Consequently, even if there are assets located abroad, succession shall be governed by Greek law provided that the deceased was a Greek citizen.
As far as Greeks residing abroad are concerned, Article 21 of Law No 1738/1987 provides that Greek nationals, who have lived abroad for at least 25 consecutive years prior to their death, shall not be subject to reserved share restrictions. This particular provision is an exception to Article 28 of Civil Code, since it allows for discretion relating to the national reserved share rules even in the case of Greek citizens.
A further exception to Article 28 of Civil Code is provided concerning the requirements for will validity. Thus, the validity of wills is determined under the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961. In line with the latter, Article 11 of Greek Civil Code provides that the form of a will at the time of its drawing up shall be subject to the law of the place regulating the will on the basis of its content, or the law of the place where this was drawn up, or the law of the testator’s nationality. According to the prevailing view, a will drawn up by a Greek national abroad shall be considered valid.