If one is inheriting the estate, he has to bear in mind that besides the assets he may inherit also liabilities. Sometimes the value of the latter may exceed the benefits from the former. That is why it is worthy to know how to avoid more trouble by refusing the inheritance altogether or accepting it with the liability amounting to the value of the estate (so called ‘benefit of inventory’).
First, let's have a look at the order of inheritance under Polish law. The intestacy rules apply when there is no valid will or if the persons appointed to the succession do not want or cannot be heirs. Under the intestacy rules, the family of the deceased inherits in the following order:
- spouse and children (if the children outlive the testator); if the children do not outlive the testator, the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on (descendants),
- spouse and parents (where the deceased has no children),
- spouse, one of the parents and the siblings (if the siblings outlive the testator); if the siblings do not outlive the testator, the descendants of the siblings,
- grandparents (when there is no spouse, children, parents, siblings or descendants of siblings); if the grandparents do not live to see the inheritance, it will fall to their descendants (uncles and aunts of the deceased) and if one of them did not live to see the inheritance, then their children (cousins of the deceased),
- stepchildren (when there is no one among all of the above),
- municipality, the Treasury (where the deceased has not left any family members).
If any of the heirs refuse the inheritance, that heir will be treated as if he did not outlive the testator.
Under the intestacy rules, the spouse and the children inherit in equal parts. However, the share for the spouse must not be smaller than one quarter of the entire estate. The share for a spouse who inherits along with the parents, siblings and descendants of the siblings of the decedent must amount to half of the estate.
If there are no descendants, the parents inherit along with the spouse. The parents' shares amount to one quarter of the entire estate. If there is no spouse of the decedent, the entire estate will fall to his parents in equal parts.
If a child of the decedent dies before the opening of the inheritance, the share in the estate which would fall to him will fall to his children in equal parts.
If one of the decedent's parents dies before the opening of the inheritance, the share in the estate which would fall to him will fall to the siblings of the decedent in equal parts.
Now, when one becomes an heir because of the refusals of the relatives closer to the decedent, what to do if the liabilities turn out to exceed the value of the estate?
Under Polish law, the heirs should make declaration on accepting an inheritance or refusing an inheritance within 6 months from the date they became aware of the fact that they are to inherit after the decedent. Where there is no declaration on acceptance or rejection of inheritance within a period of 6 months, this will be considered as the beneficiary accepting the inheritance with the benefit of inventory. That is a good solution as the liability would be limited to the value of the assets of the estate. Therefore, the heir would not have to pay more debts then the inherited value. However, that entails a duty to prepare an inventory list of the estate by the heirs. That is why the refusal of inheritance is also worth considering.
If none of the above mentioned groups has come to inherit, the estate falls to the municipality of the last place of residence of the deceased. The municipality is therefore the legal heir. If the last residence of the deceased in Poland cannot be determined or was abroad, it will fall to the State Treasury as the statutory heir.
Luckily, under Polish law no one can be found liable for the debts of the decedent without limitations. However, sometimes it is even better to take action and refuse the inheritance instead of passively accepting the inheritance with the benefit of inventory and dealing with unpaid debts which were not yours, even if they do not exceed the estate's value