Can you inherit carefree or do you think that the deceased was in debt? When someone dies, you have other things on your mind. You’re in mourning and you wish to say goodbye decently. Nevertheless, it’s essential to take action rapidly if someone is leaving debts behind.

1. Contact a notary

When a deceased is in debt it entails certain obligations for the heirs. It’s important that you have all necessary information. Therefore, contact a notary before accepting any legacy. This way you’ll be informed about any will and the financial situation of the deceased. The notary will also advise you of your options.

2. Review your inheritance options

You can always refuse a legacy. As an heir, you can choose from three options: accept the inheritance, refuse or choose for a compromise. Especially when the deceased was in debt, it’s extremely important to think carefully about the choice you wish to make.

  • Pure acceptance the inheritance: you accept the entire inheritance. If this includes debts, these are initially paid from the inheritance. If the inheritance isn’t sufficient, you will have to pay the remaining debts.
  • Pure rejection of the inheritance: you reject the entire inheritance. When you officially reject it at the notary, you don’t have to pay the debts of the deceased, but you also can’t receive anything from the deceased. So, you do not inherit anything. Not even an item of purely emotional value
  • Acceptance of the legacy under benefit of inventory: it isn’t always possible to have an overview of the inheritance. That’s why you can accept the inheritance under certain conditions. The notary will establish an inventory at the expense of the heirs. You will receive a detailed overview. In case of debts, you only have to pay it back with the inheritance itself. If the debts turn out larger than the inheritance, you will not be held personally responsible of the debts.

Once you have made a choice, you can’t change it. This is why you must not take anything from the inheritance until you have made an official decision. Otherwise, you take the risk of having tacitly accepted the inheritance.

3. A creditor or a judicial officer has contacted you?

Did you accept the inheritance? You will usually have to pay the debts. Therefore, keep a close eye on the limitation period. Once the limitation period is exceeded, you no longer have to pay the debts. You have to communicate your refusal to pay in writing to the judicial officer and/or creditor. You can find an overview of the various limitation periods here.

Have you accepted the inheritance under the benefit of inventory? Your decision is published in the Belgian Official Journal (Moniteur belge). Ask for a copy of it. Creditors can come forward up to three months after that publication. Once this delay is expired, you’ll have to pay the known debts with the inheritance. If the inheritance can’t cover it, you won’t have to pay the remaining debts. If a creditor comes forward too late, you don’t have to pay those debts. You can the creditor of a copy of the published decision.

Have you refused the legacy? Then the notary has written a waiver of inheritance. This waiver has been registered in the National Register of the Successions. You have received a copy of it. When a creditor contacts you, you don’t have to pay the debts and you have to provide them with a copy of the registration.

4. Protect your heirs

When you refuse a inheritance, the inheritance shifts to your children. You surely don’t want to burden them with the associated debts. That’s why it’s really important that your children reject the inheritance or accept it under benefit of inventory as soon as possible. Are your children underage? A justice of the peace will then take a decision in the best interest of the minor.

5. Take action quickly

In principle, you have 30 years to reject an inheritance. However, your notary will advise you to do it as soon as possible. Otherwise, you take the risk to accept it tacitly. This is why you must not take anything from the inheritance until you have officially taken a decision. For example, do not accept anything that belonged to the deceased and withdraw any money from their bank account.