Buying property abroad can turn into a nightmare, Black Country law firm George Green has warned.
It says purchasers should take legal advice both in the UK and in the country where they are buying before proceeding.
Amanda Elwell, a solicitor in the private client team at George Green's Cradley Heath offices, said tax, trust, inheritance, matrimonial and divorce laws varied in almost every European country and could affect property in many different and unexpected ways.
"Families could see demands for inheritance tax of 60 per cent or part of a property going to a undesirable relative, if they do not plan properly," she cautioned.
According to Ms Elwell, UK households now own more than #23 billion worth of property overseas, with the value increasing year on year.
"France and Spain are still by far the most popular locations in which to buy holiday homes, but the US and Eastern Europe are catching up quickly. Owning a place in the sun is a dream for many of us, but it can soon become a property nightmare, if you do not take proper legal advice in each country."
Property in France will be affected by French tax and succession laws, even if the owners only spend only a couple of weeks there each year.
She said: "The French Civil Code ensures that descendants or ascendants inherit your wealth.
"You cannot leave your French property solely to your spouse because of the droits de succession, whereby if you have children, grandchildren or parents who survive you, they will automatically inherit a percentage of your estate.
"So in the case of Mr and Mrs Jones who own a holiday home in France.
"They have one child. They were both previously married and Mr Jones has two children from his first marriage. On his death, Mr Jones' share of the house will be divided and all of his children will automatically each receive one eighth of the house, leaving Mrs Jones with just five-eighths and possibly unable to sell."
Ways around this include incorporating a clause tontine in the purchase deed before buying which means that the property is purchased for the benefit of the surviving spouse; persuading heirs to renounce their rights in a formal contract; or purchasing the property via a property holding company known as a SCI.
Ms Elwell says that the inheritance tax threshold in some countries can be as low as #10,000. In the UK at present it is #285,000.
"For example in France, inheritance tax is paid by individual beneficiaries, not the estate, as is the case in the UK, and rates of tax vary from five per cent to 60 per cent depending on your status, the value of property inherited and where you are domiciled."
She recommends that before buying a property in France, purchasers consider make a French will, asking a notaire about tontine, the matrimonial regime and SCI; decide whether they will live permanently in France now or in the future, and take financial advice about the tax implications.
She said: "It is also vital that your overseas will and your UK will harmonise."