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Retirement in Belgium: A handy guide to making a will
There are three types of will available to Belgian residents, each with its own formalities:
- The handwritten (holographic)will;
- The international testament;
- The notarial deed.
The holographic will
The least expensive form of inheritance document, but it lacks the expertise of a notary and can be the most complicated and lengthy to execute following a death: it needs to be expressed very clearly to avoid potential legal confusion.
This form of will must be entirely handwritten and signed and dated by the testator and is usually kept at home. Only upon death is it taken to a notary, who certifies its legal status and, within one month, sends the certificate and a stamped photocopy of the will to the relevant court clerk in the legal jurisidiction within which the succession formalities must be completed.
In Belgium, there are no “do-it-yourself” will-making kits to buy in the shops as a template for preparing a handwritten will.
The international testament
This can be a handwritten or typed document, which must be deposited with a notary in the presence of at least two witnesses. No-one sees the contents: the will is delivered in a sealed envelope and is not read out or inspected by the notary, who keeps it along with the testator’s written declaration that the envelope contains his or her last will and testament. After the testator’s death, the notary follows the same procedure as for the handwritten will.
The notarial deed
This form of will is also presented to a notary in front of two witnesses, but in this case the terms must be read to the testator and signed by the witnesses.
Alternatively, the terms of the will can be received by two notaries, one of whom writes the contents as dictated by the testator, reads it back to the testator for signature, and then drafts it in the form of a notarial deed. This is conducted in the presence of two witnesses.
This notarial deed – also known as the “public” or “authentic” will – requires the most work and is the most expensive option but is also the best guarantee that procedures have been followed correctly, thus expediting swifter execution of the deceased’s last wishes.
Unlike the holographic will, international testaments and notarial deeds in Belgium are automatically registered with the Central Register of Last Wills and Testaments (CRT/ZRT), allowing heirs to find them easily.
Leaving money to charity in your will
You can choose to make a bequest by adding a good cause to your will. You can bequeath money, securities, bank and securities accounts, life insurance, jewellery, art works, real estate.
Make sure to use the right name and legal form of the organisation you choose to support. Indicate a percentage of your assets rather than a precise sum, your portfolio may be different at the time of death. Provide alternatives: the organisation you want to support may no longer exist at the time of your death.
If you have left proportions of your estate that encroach upon the reserve that has to go to recognised heirs according to Belgian inheritance law, these amounts will have to be reduced. It is best to consult a notary first if you are thinking of doing this. If the heirs dispute the terms of the will, they can take the dispute to the court of first instance.
A Belgian will can be revoked or replaced by another one at any time. If expatriates living in Belgium have made a will in another country, the Belgian authorities will recognise the terms of the “foreign” will, as long as the signatory has expressly declared in the document that the estate is to be handled under the inheritance laws of the country in which the will was drawn up. If no such declaration was included, Belgian inheritance law will still apply to the “foreign” will.
Making a donation of goods to your heirs while you are still alive reduces the value of the estate you will pass to them on your death, thus also reducing the succession duties they pay. A donation can bring significant tax advantages to the beneficiary, particularly if the value is great and the relationship is a distant one. It’s best to use a notarial donation for this type of donation. It offers more security than a movable gift.
Donation of organs is automatic under Belgian law. If a person does not want to donate their organs, they must register their withdrawal of consent at their local town hall. Further information: www.beldonor.be (French & German).
This article appears in Golden years in Belgium: an expat guide to life after retirement, produced by the King Baudouin Foundation and the Federation of Notaries, available to download for free.