Acceptance and rejection of inheritance - legal consequences

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A situation in which we belong to the group of heirs appointed by law or appointed under a will does not have to result in the acquisition of an inheritance. It should be realized that upon its opening (upon the death of the testator), the inheritance is acquired only conditionally. From that moment on, the testator has six months to decide whether to accept or reject the inheritance (estate).

To accept the inheritance with the benefit of inventory, no action on the part of the heir is needed, in this case silence means consent to the inheritance. The situation is quite different when the person called to inherit decides to accept directly or to reject the inheritance. It is then necessary for such a person to submit a declaration of will in a court or in a notary's office.

The ability to accept or decline an inheritance

Bear in mind that the ability to accept or reject an inheritance is a more complex issue than the ability to inherit itself. Any person who was appointed to it by law or by a will has the right to inherit. On the other hand, the ability to accept or reject inheritance is granted only to persons who have full legal capacity.

If the heir does not have full legal capacity, the declaration of will to accept or reject the inheritance is submitted by his legal representative. On the other hand, an heir with limited legal capacity may independently submit a declaration of acceptance or rejection of inheritance, provided that it has been covered by the simultaneous or prior consent of the legal representative.

Important!
A legal representative of an heir who does not have full legal capacity should obtain the consent of the guardianship court in order to submit the necessary declaration of will on his behalf. Its absence makes the acceptance or rejection of the inheritance absolutely invalid.

Obtaining the permission of the guardianship court to accept or reject the inheritance is not a mere declaration of will. After obtaining the court's decision, such a declaration must be submitted in a timely manner - otherwise the heir, in accordance with Art. 1015 of the Civil Code, accept the inheritance with the benefit of inventory.

On the other hand, if the heir is a natural person and has full legal capacity, the declaration of acceptance or rejection of the inheritance may be submitted by himself or by an attorney. If a natural person does not have such capacity, a declaration of intent is made by their statutory representative, who may do it independently or through an attorney. In the case of a legal person and an organizational unit without legal personality, pursuant to Art. 38 of the Civil Code, the declaration of acceptance or rejection of inheritance is submitted by the authorities of this entity. The competences to submit such a declaration of will are determined by the acts and the statute of the entity based on them.

Acceptance of inheritance

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, at the time of the testator's death, universal succession takes place, i.e. the transfer of all rights and obligations of the deceased to his heirs. However, this inheritance is provisional and temporary. The final acquisition of the inheritance takes place only with the expiry of the six-month period or with the submission of an appropriate declaration of will by the heir.

Civil Code in art. 1012 gives the heir essentially three options. He may accept the inheritance without limitation of liability for the testator's debts, i.e. simple acceptance of the inheritance, he may accept it with limitation of the said liability, i.e. accept the inheritance with the benefit of inventory, or he may reject it.

Acceptance of inheritance with the benefit of inventory

Currently, in the Polish legal system, the main method of inheritance is the so-called inheritance with the benefit of inventory. In order to use it, there is no need to submit a declaration of will in court or at a notary public. Acceptance of the inheritance with the benefit of inventory limits the liability of the heir for the debts of the inheritance up to the amount of the inheritance received. This means that if the testator has debts exceeding the value of his assets, these liabilities will be repaid to the value of the inheritance received. The heir is then not obliged to cover them from his estate.

Important!
Acceptance of the inheritance with the benefit of inventory may result in the bailiff carrying out an inventory, i.e. drawing up a list of items included in the estate - it is connected with the obligation of the heir to incur certain costs.

Accept the inheritance outright

Accepting the inheritance directly means that the heir accepts it without any restrictions. Thus, he inherits both the testator's assets (property) and liabilities (debts). It should be borne in mind that in the case of this type of acceptance of the inheritance, the person appointed to it is responsible for all inheritance debts with all his property (including private property). It would seem, therefore, that submitting a declaration of acceptance of the inheritance directly has its justification only in a situation where the heir is sure that the testator has not left any debts.

In this type of acceptance of inheritance, it is necessary to submit an appropriate declaration of will, which must be presented to the court or notary public within six months from the date of opening the inheritance or the day on which we learned about the death of the testator.

Rejection of inheritance

However, the situation of the heirs is much more complicated if he decides to reject the inheritance. A person appointed to the estate by law who rejects it, is treated as if he or she did not live to see the opening of the estate. As a result, the inheritance share of such heirs:

  • in the first place it belongs to his descendants (descendants), if he had them at the time of opening the estate;

  • it then falls to other statutory heirs, if the statutory heir has no descendants.

Attention!
If the inheritance is burdened with debts and we do not want to inherit it, and we do not want our children to inherit it as well, remember that they too must reject the inheritance. If they are minors, this must be done on their behalf, after obtaining the consent of the family court.

The situation is quite different when inheritance is based on a will. When the inheritance is rejected, the testator is then replaced by:

  • other testamentary heirs, if appointed - in parts corresponding to their shares. Note that a share attributable to an increment may be rejected while retaining the share by appointment;

  • Substitute heirs - the heir may be a person reserved by the testator in the will, indicating that in the event of rejection of an inheritance from the will, the heir will be replaced by the so-called heirs substituted;

  • statutory heirs - if there are no other testamentary heirs and the testator has not applied the institution of substitution.

If all testamentary and statutory heirs cannot or do not want to accept the inheritance, it falls to the municipality of the last place of residence of the testator or to the State Treasury.

Who and under what circumstances has the right to refuse the inheritance?

Anyone can submit a declaration of rejection of the inheritance, both the statutory and testamentary heir, the reason for such rejection is irrelevant. It should be remembered that for persons without legal capacity, the declaration must be submitted by their legal guardian, after obtaining the consent of the guardianship court.

In addition, an heir appointed to inheritance both by virtue of a will and by law may reject the testamentary inheritance and accept it as the statutory heir. This procedure is often used when the will has many conditions and instructions.

The deadline for submitting a declaration of will and the consequences of failure to meet the deadline

The declaration of acceptance or rejection of the inheritance must be submitted within 6 months from the date of opening the inheritance in the case of statutory heirs and from the date of announcement of a will in the case of testamentary heirs.

However, the above rule may not always apply. The provision of art. 1015 of the Civil Code regulates that the time limit runs from the moment when the heir found out about the title of his appointment. This means that for the heir who did not receive information about this event on the day of the inheritance opening or the announcement of the will, the above-mentioned period does not run. Therefore, it may be counted only from the day on which the heir learned of the testator's death or the announcement of the will. At the same time, it should be remembered that invoking the discussed premiss must be proven in court, otherwise the time limit will be calculated according to the basic rule.

If the heir rejects the inheritance, the heirs appointed in its place receive a 6-month period for submitting a relevant declaration, starting on the day on which they became aware of the rejection of the inheritance by the primary heir.

Late rejection of inheritance

There are also situations when the heir has the right to reject the inheritance after the expiry of the 6-month period. It can do so if a prior declaration of acceptance (or "tacit" consent) has been made as a result of an error or a threat. Such rejection may be submitted within one year from the date the error was discovered and one year after the fear of execution of the threat ceases.

Important!
Avoidance of the effects of a declaration of will submitted as a result of an error or threat must be made in court. Submitting a declaration to a notary public will have no legal effects.

Acceptance and rejection of inheritance - summary

According to the Civil Code, in the event of an inheritance being opened, heirs generally have three options to behave towards their inheritance. They may accept the inheritance directly, accept it with inventory, or they may reject the inheritance. The rule is that in the case of a passive attitude of the heir, i.e. failure to submit a declaration regarding the acceptance or rejection of the inheritance - the inheritance is inherited with the benefit of inventory.

Before making your decision, consider carefully what effects each of the declarations will have on the heir. Fortunately, the decision deadline is quite long, as it is 6 months. At the same time, it should be remembered that this deadline expires even despite the appointment of the date of the court hearing, therefore the safer (but more expensive) option is to submit a declaration to a notary public.