The old adage that about choosing friends but not family came to mind recently when the story broke that King of Romania had disinherited his grandson. The third in line to the Romanian throne, formerly known as Prince Nicolae, was stripped of his royal title and other privileges by his grandfather, King Mihai, as he did not yet fit the job description of ‘dignified, moral, thinks of others and is hard working, respecting the principles of the family’.
Nor was he the first to go. His aunt Irina lost her slot last year for running a cockfighting business – perhaps not a profession reflecting the elegance and dignity which the Romanian people associate with their royal family, thus distinguishing them from politicians.
It’s not like Swiss-born, British-educated Nicolae has lost out on a great claim: Romania is a republic and the head of the royal family bestows (and retracts) titles only for the sake of honour. But with the coming into effect of the European Succession Regulation (also known as Brussels IV) this Monday, the eventual inheritance of his grandfather’s assets – wherever situated – should be more certain.
The aim of the regulation is to give greater certainty as to which country’s law governs the succession to a person’s estate where they have connections to more than one country – for example where an individual is resident in one jurisdiction, a national of another and with family and property in multiple countries.
A key aspect of the regulation is that the laws of the country in which a resident individual dies will apply to his property in /every/ European country which has signed up to Brussels IV, unless the individual has elected to use the law of his or her nationality.
If only it were that simple. While Romania has signed up to the regulation, Switzerland is not part of the EU and the UK has yet to opt in, so it is still unclear how far the UK is bound by the provisions of the regulation and how courts will treat dispositions of property in their countries or of English property by their nationals.
Whether this means that an individual can go shopping for a law which will defeat any ‘forced heirship’ provisions under his national law is still unclear.
At least in the meantime, Nicolae, who was formerly third in line to the throne (now replaced by his sister Karina, who is still behind his mother and another aunt), can remain hopeful that the immediate successor to the Romanian throne might reinstate him.
Sophie Mazzier is counsel at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP