More than 3,200 people every month make an official declaration of refusal to accept an inheritance, according to figures from the Federation of Notaries.
The practice of declining an inheritance, known as renunciation or disclaimer, in general concerns an estate left by a deceased person where the debts exceed the assets.
It is also possible to disclaim an inheritance if the estate is worth less than €5,000 after all debts have been paid. That sum is indexed every three years, and has now risen to €5,219.21.
No-one in Belgium, according to the law, is obliged to accept an inheritance, including relatives of the first line who automatically inherit in the absence of a will.
The declaration of renunciation can be made via a notary at no cost. The notary then registers the document with the Central Inheritance Register kept by the Federation.
The registration ensures that the beneficiaries are not able to be pursued to pay the debts of the deceased. However the refusal covers all of the property of the deceased, explains notary Carol Bohyn, spokesperson for the federation.
“It is sufficient for the beneficiary to submit a copy of the deed of rejection to the creditor,” she said. The result is that the heir relinquishes all property from the estate of the deceased person and cannot claim personal items such as photos from that estate.
In the period from March 2018 to the end of July this year, 93.021 people followed the procedure, an average of 3,208 a month.
The Walloon and Flemish regions were roughly equal, with 43,841 and 43,071 disclaimers respectively. The Brussels region counted only 6,109.
In theory, the beneficiary has 30 years to disclaim an estate.
“However it is advisable that the heir does not wait too long,” said Bohyn. “Otherwise there is a risk that they will do something that is considered a tacit acceptance of the estate and will still have to pay the debts of the deceased. For example, the transfer of a minimal amount from the bank account of the deceased to the bank account of the beneficiary can be labelled as tacit acceptance.”
Another danger of waiting to disclaim, she said, is that the original heir or beneficiary might die at any time, when their own heirs would then be liable for the debts of the first deceased.