In the popular culture, the surviving family members gather around the notary’s desk to find out what the deceased has decided will become of his or her legacy.
In 46,000 cases in the past 12 months in Belgium, those who were left something in a deceased’s will refused to accept, as a precaution against being landed with the deceased person’s debts.
Around 3,200 people a month are presented with the will of a deceased person, and refuse what they appear to be inheriting . The reason: they would then be liable for the debts the deceased has also left behind. That china teapot could carry a mountain of debt.
“No one is obliged to accept an inheritance,” according to the Notaries’ Federation in a statement.
“If the deceased left more debts than assets, the heir can dismiss the estate before a notary free of charge. The notary will then not charge a fee. This also applies if the net assets (the amount that remains after you have deducted all the debts of the assets) is lower than €5,219.19. The costs are borne by a fund set up by the notary profession.”
"More and more people are aware that they can reject an inheritance for free by having a declaration of rejection drawn up by a notary," says Carol Bohyn, spokesperson for Notaris.be.
“This way they avoid problems with the creditors of the deceased.”
The cost of such a rejection of inheritance is personal. The inheritor can then no longer lay claim to any article of the deceased’s property, not even that worthless china teapot, or more importantly family photos. The entire estate is out of bounds however small or large.
Warning: the rejection of an inheritance cannot be reversed. If it later turns out Uncle Alf had some oil wells in Texas, nothing can be done. Also, a decision – although the legal term is 30 years for a rejection – should be done as soon as possible.
If a person named in the will does not issue a formal rejection, their own descendants could be responsible for the debts involved should the inheritor die in the meantime.
For more advice, contact www.notaris.be/faq/erven