Both my parents have passed away, so I’ve done the whole Will/Inheritance/Estate thing and having a passing interest in all things legal I found it all quite fascinating.
In last week’s Economist Magazine they had an article on how inheritance laws differ across the EU.
In 26 out of 27 European Union countries, Mr Buffett’s plans would not just be shocking, but illegal. The exception is Britain, or rather England and Wales (Scotland has its own, centuries-old legal system, with a strong continental flavour). In continental Europe a big part of an estate (often around half) is reserved for the surviving children of the deceased and must be equally divided between them. This “forced heirship” makes it impossible to disinherit feckless children (though several countries exclude bequests to “unworthy” children, who have for example murdered a parent or two). Such rules also make it hard to reward the deserving by, say, leaving more to a daughter who gave up a career to care for her ailing parents. Finally, “clawback” laws in many countries stop parents from dodging forced heirship by giving assets away while they are still alive. This applies to gifts made in the last years of life (two years in Austria, ten in Germany), or much longer: in some countries, no time limit applies.
Wow – I had always taken it for granted that you could leave your assets to whomever you pleased. But apparently not… and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Read the article for all the details, but I can see it would cause us real problems.
It is quite a shock how something Id’ viewed as almost a human right turns out to be viewed with abhorrence in a next door country which I had viewed as being broadly similar to the UK. It’s a reminder that some things are very cultural dependant and you can’t make assumptions… especially about things you assume are common!