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More Belgians saying no to an inheritance

15:18 03/12/2023

Accepting an inheritance in Belgium is becoming increasingly unpopular, despite one’s initial thought that an offer of free goods or property would not be refused.

The latest statistics, published by the Belgian Federation of Notaries (Fednot), showed that almost 52,000 Belgians said no to what a loved one left behind last year.

Saying yes to an inheritance is not obligatory. If the heir is certain that it contains more debts than income, he or she “can of course refuse it,” Fednot said.

Under Belgian law, there are three possibilities: say yes to the inheritance, renounce it (an option which is free but only possible if the assets are less than or equal to €5,219) or accept the inheritance with the benefit of an inventory.

After saying no, the data is put in the Central Estate Registry, managed by Fednot. From this moment on, the creditors of the deceased will no longer be able to contact the heirs to demand debts are paid.

The heir only needs to show them a copy of the renunciation act. On the other hand, the heir has now renounced all the estate’s assets and cannot claim any personal items belonging to the deceased, such as photos or letters.

In the third case, a notary includes in the list all the estates’ assets as well as its debts communicated either by the heirs themselves or the creditors.

This means that there are no nasty surprises - notably hidden debts - and also that the assets of the person who inherits and that of the deceased do not merge.

This procedure does come at a cost, however – around €1,500. It is also more cumbersome, as the list will be published in Belgium’s Moniteur Belge, the country’s Official Journal of legislation which contains all Belgium’s laws, royal decrees and ordinances, as an appeal to creditors to come forward.

But Fednot spokesman Sylvain Bavier argued that this option is particularly recommended if the heir does not know with certainty what is in the inheritance.

“If an heir does not take any action, the state will consider that he has accepted the succession," he said. "He will then have to pay the debts of the deceased and submit an inheritance declaration.”

But with a declaration of renunciation with a notary, this procedure is avoided, Bavier explained.

In 2022, 51,817 Belgians renounced their rights to an inheritance before a notary, Fednot said, noting that this number has been increasing continually for five years.

In 2018, the figure was 35,992, increasing to 45,505 in 2019, 46,165 in 2020 and to 49,532 in 2021, before reaching nearly 52,000 last year.

The trend is continuing, as by September 2023, the federation had already recorded 38,632 refusals of succession.

The increase can be explained by two factors, Bavier said. On the one hand, inheritances were previously managed by the courts, which did not publicise the different ways of dealing with them, but this competence returned to the notaries in 2018.

On the other hand, there are “quite a few ‘broken’ families”, with members who no longer have any contact with each other, Bavier said. So heirs give up as they do not want to invest (in these procedures), “or think only debts remain”.

Written by Liz Newmark