How long after someone dies do you get an inheritance in Poland? What is the process of receiving an inheritance? Can an executor withhold money from a beneficiary?
These are important questions that arise after the death of a friend or family member. In Poland the reality is that it will take several months—and in some cases, years—before you receive an inheritance from a Will. Let’s have a look at how the inheritance procedure works and what needs to be done to manage the process efficiently.
What is a Will?
A Will is a legal document that sets forth a person’s final wishes about what should happen to their property after they die and who should care for any minor children. A Will is also used to appoint an “executor” or “executors” who are responsible for carrying out the deceased’s final wishes.
Role of executors and their responsibilities in managing a Will
An executor is a person appointed in the Will who has the legal responsibility to manage a deceased person’s estate. The executor’s primary responsibilities are to identify and protect the deceased’s assets, pay debts and expenses as well as ensure that gifts will be transferred to named beneficiaries in accordance with the Will.
In common law countries like the UK, to be able to carry out his responsibilities, an executor is typically required to obtain a grant of probate. A grant of probate gives the executor the legal authority to “take over” the deceased’s assets and “convert” the ownership of assets such as real estate and bank accounts from the deceased’s name to the name of the estate.
This is not the case in civil law countries like Poland. In Poland, the role of executor is limited. His main responsibility is to look after the deceased’s assets and carry out the deceased’s final wishes, usually as regards the burial.
What is the inheritance process?
Inheritance process is the legal process for settling the deceased’s estate and confirming the list of heirs.
There are two ways for settling the deceased’s estate and confirming the list of heirs: either visiting a notary public and signing the inheritance deed or filing application to the court to verify the validly of the Will and confirm the list of heirs.
A. Visiting a notary public and signing the inheritance deed.
If all potential heirs and all beneficiaries can be present in front of the notary public in person and if they agree to the proposed list of heirs and the succession plan, the parties can sign the inheritance deed. This is the easiest and fastest method.
B. Filing application to the court to verify the validly of the Will and confirm the list of heirs.
If all potential heirs and all beneficiaries cannot be present in front of the notary public in person or if someone disagrees with the proposed list of heirs or if the Will is unclear – the only solution is filing the application to the Court.
What if the deceased died without a Will?
When there is no Will, the spouse or other family member of the deceased should also start procedure as described before.
When a person dies in Poland without a Will, it results in the deceased person’s estate being distributed to heirs according to the priorities set out in The Civil Code. The deceased’s spouse and his children are generally first in line to inherit in equal parts provided that the spouse gets at least ¼ of the estate.
The step-by-step timeline for receiving inheritance from a Will
1. Check if there is a Will
The first step is for the spouse or other family member of the deceased to
find out whether the deceased has left a Will. To do this it is worth checking the Notary Register of Wills of Poland. This can be done either via the Register's website or at any notary's office after presenting the deceased's death certificate.
2. Identify all the assets and debts
The second step is for the spouse or other family member of the deceased to gather information regarding all of the deceased’s assets, including bank accounts, real property and vehicles, as well as any liabilities of the estate, such as mortgages, credit cards, loans, or other outstanding debts.
Unfortunately, there is no central register of assets in Poland that would facilitate the process of assets search.
3. Reject or accept the estate within 6 months deadline
An important deadline to bear in mind is the deadline of six months after the death of the deceased. Within this period, the potential heirs can reject the inheritance if they do not wish to accept it for some reason.
Polish inheritance law distinguishes two ways of accepting an inheritance.
By law, if we do not submit an appropriate declaration within the period of 6 months mentioned above, we will acquire the inheritance with the benefit of inventory. Such acceptance of the inheritance means that the heir accepts the inheritance, but its liability for the inheritance debts is limited only to the value of the assets left by the testator.
The second way is to accept the inheritance directly. It consists in accepting the inheritance without limitation of liability for debts. This means that the heir will be liable for the inherited debts with all his assets, both those acquired as part of the inheritance and those he already had. In order for there to be an direct acquisition, a special declaration must be made within the aforementioned period of six months from the testator's death.
4. Process by the notary office or by the Court
The potential heirs need to decide at this stage whether they want to settle the matter at the notary office (which can be arranged within days) or whether they want to file application to the court. The court will review the application and will set the date of the hearing during which one of the heirs will be obliged to testify and make a statement regarding the list of heirs. If everything is in order, the court will issue a decision confirming the acquisition of the inheritance. Court processing time can take up to 12 months.
Once the list of heirs has been confirmed, the heirs can deal with the estate assets and start division of the estate among themselves or selling the estate. For example, if real estate such as the house is to be sold and we have 3 heirs inheriting ⅓ of the estate each, they can sign the deed of sale acting together and each of them will receive ⅓ of the price from a buyer.
5. File tax declarations
In Poland, inheritance tax still applies. The tax obligation arises as soon as the court decision confirming the acquisition of the inheritance becomes final or when the notary issues the inheritance deed. The amount of tax depends on the value of the inheritance and the level of relationship between the testator and the heir.