Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee organised the hearing to get to grips with issues raised by the European Commission's February 2005 Green Paper on wills and succession. There were 50,000 such international cases in the EU in 2002, Italian lawyer Domenico Damascelli told the hearing. "If someone dies and leaves bits of their estate all over Europe it is very hard to distribute it to their heirs", he said. The easiest way to overcome these problems would be to harmonise substantive national laws but this was not legally possible, he said. The EC Treaty only allows the EU to legislate on conflicts of jurisdiction and applicable law.
There was broad consensus that a future EU Regulation should enshrine the law of habitual residence at the time of death as the standard applicable law. Professor Paul Lagarde from the University of Paris said this rule had the advantage of resulting, in practice, in courts applying the law of their own country. If the person lives in a non-EU country, jurisdiction could fall to the last EU country they lived in or, if there is none, the member state of which they are a national, said German legal academic Heinz-Peter Mansel. British lawyer Richard Frimston wanted to ensure that applying the 'habitual residence' rule would not prevent someone electing to take their national succession law with them when they move to another EU country.
Special protection for family?
Another suggestion floated in the Green Paper...