When the deceased dies leaving a will, the heirs entitled to deal with the estate are named in the will. When no will is left, the intestacy laws tell us who is entitled to inherit the estate. 
Succession under Polish law refers to the transfer of assets and liabilities to one or more heirs due to someone’s death. The succession procedure starts when someone dies and it ends with allocation of the estate to the heir, or if more than one heir with the division of the assets. The heirs may inherit the deceased’s entire estate or part of it, as per their shares. They are required to accept the succession to inherit the share of the estate they are entitled.

Unless the value of the estate left by the deceased is very small, no financial institution will release the assets they hold in the name of the deceased to the heirs without authority. Everyone will ask for a decision on the acquisition of inheritance. What is it and how to get it?
A decision on the acquisition of inheritance is an official document confirming that the persons named on it are entitled to inherit the estate and in what proportions (e.g. a spouse and three children in equal parts of 25% each). The decision can be obtained either from the court as a result of the probate proceedings or from the notary public in a form of a special inheritance certificate.
Typically, an application for a decision on the acquisition of inheritance is made within several months after the death. Formally speaking, there is no deadline by which an application for a decision must be made. The application can be made by each of the heirs acting individually or all of them acting jointly. If all the heirs agree as to the proposed steps and if all of them can attend the meeting at the notary public personally, then the easiest way forward is to arrange the meeting at the notary office in Poland and sign the deed on the acquisition of inheritance. Then, the notary public will issue a special inheritance certificate.
If there is any disagreement among the heirs or if any of the heirs cannot attend the visit at the notary office in person, then the only route is the probate proceedings by the local court. Depending on the circumstances the probate proceedings take a long time, especially if foreign parties are involved. The court has to notify every potential heir about the start of the proceedings in Poland.
The decision on the acquisition of inheritance in Poland is similar to a grant of probate in the UK or US however, there are some important differences. The most important difference is that in the Polish system the estate of the deceased is inherited by the heirs automatically at the moment of death without intermediary of the executor or administrator, while in the UK system there has to be an intermediation of the executor. In the common law countries, a grant of probate is an official document confirming that the person named on it is entitled to deal with the estate, i.e. collect all the assets, pay all liabilities and debts of the estate and distribute the net balance to entitled beneficiaries. This is not the case in Poland.
If any of the heirs needs to collect information about all assets of the deceased and their value at the time of death, he or she can apply to the Polish bailiff with the motion to prepare the formal inventory of assets. Then, the bailiff will raise enquiries with the family, go through the deceased documentation, write to banks and financial institutions, policy holders etc. The inventory of assets prepared by the bailiff will be the formal basis for the division of the estate (the next phase of the process).
When no will is left, the Polish intestacy laws apply and the family members inherit the estate in the following order:
    • spouse and children (and if the children do not outlive the testator, the estate goes to grandchildren;  please note that the divorced spouse and the cohabitant partner are not entitled to inherit),
    • spouse and parents (if the deceased has no children),
    • parents and siblings (and if the siblings do not outlive the testator, the descendants of the siblings),
    • grandparents (if 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 and if one of them did not live to see the inheritance, then their children,
    • stepchildren (if there is no one among all of the above),
    • municipality or the State Treasury (if the deceased has not left any family members).
    If any of the heirs refuse the inheritance, that heir is treated as if he did not outlive the testator.
    When the deceased leaves a will, the estate is shared out according to the testator’s wishes, within settled limits. This is called the testate succession.
    Within the testate succession, the Polish law sets out the so-called forced share of an inheritance (“zachowek”). This is a statutory right entitling the closest relatives to inherit a share of the estate, according to a principle of solidarity. Therefore, it is not on the deceased to dispose of his or her entire estate but of a portion of it, while the other portion is reserved for the closest relatives.

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