Inheritance laws in Poland are fairly simple and straightforward. However, having an estate lawyer by your side can greatly help you, especially in the cross-border issues.
Let’s have a look at the Polish inheritance law and succession procedure.

1. What does succession mean under the Polish law?
Succession 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 the 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 they want to reject the inheritance.
The legatee (“zapisobierca”) is someone that inherits a specific asset (i.e. a legacy) as identified by the testator. A legacy (“zapis windykacyjny”) can be any personal property and includes assets such as jewelry, money or real estate.
2. What to do when someone dies?
When someone dies, the first step is to verify the existence of a Will. 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. 
a) When the deceased leaves a Will: the estate is shared out according to the testator’s wishes, within settled limits. This is called a testate succession. 

Within the testate succession, the Polish law sets out the so-called forced share of the estate (“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.
b) When someone dies without leaving a Will: the estate is shared according to statutory rules, the so called Intestate succession. The rules are set out in the Polish Civil Code.
3. Who can inherit under the rules of intestacy?
The persons entitled to inherit under the provisions of the intestate succession are:
    • spouse (the divorced spouse or the cohabitant partner are not entitled to inherit) and
    • children (if any child died before the testator, his share is inherited by the children of that deceased child in equal parts).
    If there is no spouse and no children – the estate goes to parents and – in the absence of surviving parents – it goes to siblings.
    4. What is an inheritance certificate?
    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 an inheritance certificate. What is it and how to get it?
    An inheritance certificate 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). It can be obtained either from the court as a result of the probate proceedings or from a notary in a form of a special inheritance deed.
    Typically, an application for an inheritance certificate. is made within several months after the death. 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 appear before a notary in person, the easiest way is to arrange the meeting with a notary and sign the deed on inheritance. Then, the notary will issue an inheritance certificate.
    If there is any disagreement among the heirs or if any of the heirs cannot appear before the notary in person, then the only route is the probate proceedings by the local court. Depending on the circumstances the probate proceedings can take up to a year, especially if foreign parties are involved. The court has to notify every potential heir about the start of the proceedings in Poland.
    The Polish inheritance certificate 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 or a grant of administration 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.
    5. What documents do you need for the inheritance certificate?
    The following documents needs to be presented to the notary or to the court in order to obtain the inheritance certificate:
    1. Death certificate of the deceased;
    2. Certificate confirming the PESEL number of the deceased;
    3. Original of the Will and all previous Wills (if any);
    4. Marriage certificate of the spouse;
    5. Birth certificate of each of the heirs;
    6. Any other documents which can prove the family connections.
    6. Is inheritance taxed?
    Whether or not there is a Will, it is necessary to submit a tax declaration to the Polish Tax Office within 6 months from obtaining the inheritance certificate.
    The declaration must mention the entire deceased’s estate, including immovable and movable properties, current accounts, deposits, pensions, credits and shares.
    The heirs are required to pay taxes as calculated by the tax authority. The request for calculation of the inheritance tax should be made within 1 month. The closest relatives who have Polish citizenship are exempt from paying the inheritance tax in Poland, provided they have submitted a tax declaration to the Polish Tax Office within 6 months from obtaining the inheritance certificate.

    7.  Acceptance of the succession
    In the Polish legal system, you obtain the status of an heir automatically at the moment of testator’s death. Within a period of 6 month from the moment you have learned about your succession, you may either accept the inheritance in full or you can accept the inheritance with the benefit of inventory. In the case of the acceptance with the benefit of inventory, you will pay the debts of the estate only within the value of the estate, with the inherited assets.
    If the inheritance is accepted in full, the heir is liable for any debts of the deceased, even if the debts exceed the value of the inheritance assets.
    You can also decide to reject the inheritance – a declaration on rejection should be made within 6 month from the moment you have learned about the succession.
    If no declaration has been made within 6 month from the moment you have learned about your succession, it is assumed that you have accepted the inheritance with the benefit of inventory.

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