Successions, gifts and wills
Belgians residing abroad can turn to the competent local authority to deal with procedures concerning property and family law.
Belgians having their habitual residence in a country outside the European Union can also contact the Belgian consular representative competent for the consular jurisdiction.
Succession involves the transfer of assets and liabilities from a deceased individual to one or more living individuals. The estate is opened at the domicile of the deceased.
- The settlement of (intestate) succession begins upon the death of a person who has passed away without leaving a valid will. In this case the assets are distributed as per the provisions set out in the Civil Code.
- A succession based on a will occurs when the deceased has decided, by means of a will, to assign all or part of his estate (appointment of heirs).
- Contractual succession occurs when succession is attributed by virtue of a deed of gift which takes effect after the death of the donor (e.g. stipulation in a marriage contract).
A will is a deed whereby persons, referred to as the testators, dispose of all or part of their assets from the time of their death. Testators can always revoke their will.
A gift is a deed by which a person gives another person an asset.
- A gift between living persons is, by definition, an act of giving performed while both the donor and recipient are alive. This legal act entails the donor immediately and irrevocably parting with the donated asset to the recipient, who accepts it.
Three types of legacies
- a general legacy by which one or more persons inherit the entire estate;
- a general legacy by which testators leave part of their estate, for example one third, all moveable or immoveable property, or half of their immoveable property, etc.;
- a particular legacy by which the heir receives a sum of money, a particular asset or a category of assets, such as an antique wardrobe or all the books owned by the deceased.
Belgian law attributes a set part of the inheritance (known as the reserve) to certain heirs (children, the surviving spouse and ascendants). The rest of the inheritance may be disposed of freely to the benefit of third parties. If the legacies exceed the part available, they will need to be reduced.
Under Belgian law, there are several types of wills
- The holograph will (testament olographe), which the testator must write entirely by hand, sign and date. No other stipulations apply. The testator may file a holograph will with a notary.
- The public or authentic will which is received by a notary in the presence of two witnesses or which is received by two notaries.
- The international will, which was established by the Washington Convention of 26 October 1973, is a will that is presented to the notary in the presence of two witnesses. The will is signed by the testator, the notary and the two witnesses. It is attached to an attestation by the notary who will be responsible for keeping it. This option is advisable when there is a foreign element associated with either the testator, the heirs or the assets in question.
Inheritance: acceptance or rejection
Anyone who is an heir, whether through an intestate inheritance or through a will, has three options.
The heir may purely and simply accept the inheritance, in which case the heir’s assets and those of the deceased become one and the same. The heir is obliged to pay the debts of the deceased, even if they exceed the extent of the estate.
The heir may also accept the inheritance under beneficium inventarii, in which case the estate of the deceased will remain separate from that of the heir. The heir will then only pay debts up to the total value of the inherited assets.
Finally, the heir may reject the inheritance, in which case he/she will inherit neither the assets, nor the debts of the deceased. Acceptance of an inheritance under beneficium inventarii and the rejection of the inheritance must be laid down in a declaration made to the clerk of the court of first instance in the place where the succession is opened.
Making a will abroad
Belgian citizens having their usual residence abroad who wish to make a will, can lodge a request with the competent local notary/civil servant or body. They also can lodge a request with a consular officer invested with the notarial powers to draw up a public/authentic or international will or make a will themselves in the form and under the terms and conditions which apply in Belgium.
Search for wills
Search for wills: it is possible to verify if a will in the name of the deceased has been registered with the Central Register of Last Wills and Testaments (CRT) in Belgium.
Opening of the inheritance when abroad: role of the Belgian Missions
Our consular and diplomatic posts abroad are not authorised to become involved or take up a position in the actual liquidation of estates or to issue an opinion on succession.
Only the heirs or rightful claimants or authorised persons (such as notaries, lawyers, etc,) may take the steps they deem necessary with a view to defending their interests to the best of their ability.
Here our consular and diplomatic missions fulfill an accessory role, as to limit consular intervention to measures concerning preservation and administration. Our representatives may offer their services to facilitate the relations between heirs and local authorities.