The death of a relative is never an easy thing to deal with, but can be even more complicated and distressing when you live in a foreign country. What does Dutch law say about succession and inheritance?
This post was reviewed and updated on 19 August 2020
Say you are French, have an American partner and have lived in the Netherlands for the past three years. If one of you dies, what does that mean for the other’s inheritance?
A relatively new European regulation has clarified the issue of succession when it comes to internationals. The EU regulation states that the law on inheritance in the country where the deceased had his or her last ‘habitual residence’ should govern that person’s estate, regardless of where the estate is located. This means that if the deceased person usually live in the Netherlands, their estate will be subject to Dutch law, even if they are, for example, American or French.
However, the EU regulation also allows people to decide that the law of their own country should apply – a decision which needs to be included in their will. You will need to think carefully about which option to go for – and a lot will depend on the laws in your country of origin.
Whichever option you choose, the law will apply to your entire estate in the EU, with the exception of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, as they have separate rules.
A foreign inheritance
If you are living in the Netherlands and are receiving an inheritance from abroad, you will often have to deal with foreign legal systems.
If the person you are inheriting from had another EU country as their habitual residence, it is relatively simple to determine the which laws apply to the estate.
If they live outside Europe the situation will largely depend on other factors, such as the location of the assets and the location where the deceased lived. For example, if you are living in the Netherlands and inherit a house in the Netherlands from a relative outside Europe, you may still have to deal with Dutch law.
Be aware that determining which national law applies to the estate you are receiving should always be one of the important first things to find out. Accepting or rejecting an inheritance has to be done in accordance with the appropriate law and if you make mistakes, the impact could be far-reaching.
If someone dies in the Netherlands without leaving a will – and the Netherlands is their habitual place of residence – Dutch law will apply. The Dutch law on succession states that the children and spouse (or registered partner) are first in line to inherit (equal shares of) the estate. Brothers, sisters and parents are next, grandparents follow and great-grandparents are last.
This means that if the person who dies has no children or partner, their brothers, sisters and parents will inherit the estate. If there are none of them, the estate will go to the grandparents and so on.
It is worth noting that a partner who is not married to the deceased or has not undergone a registered partnership is not an heir and is barely protected by law.
Dutch law also dictates that if the spouse or registered partner is the lawful heir, they are entitled to all the property (assets and debts) of the deceased.
Children, however, only have a financial claim on the partner of the deceased, presumably their parent, though not always. This claim can be collected only if the partner dies or goes bankrupt. If the partner remarries, the children would be able to request material parts of the estate, but the partner will still retain the rights to use those items.
Making a will
If you have a will drafted in the Netherlands, it has to comply with Dutch law, so a notary will have to make up a deed in order for the document to be valid. Making a will allows you to make ‘bespoke’ arrangements regarding succession and the division of your estate.
For example, you can name an executor to represent the heirs and lead the process of dividing up and settling your estate. You can also leave items or sums of money to charities or friends and include almost anyone you like as an heir.
Sometimes, people want to disinherit relatives who are their legal heirs. While you can stop your mother or your brother inheriting from you, children and legal partners will always have certain rights and in these cases the law overrules the will.
For example, children are always entitled to their statutory share in the estate. This amount is half of the value of what they would have been entitled to if they were not disinherited. A disinherited spouse will also have the right to the continued use of the marital home.
Get expert help
As you can see, wills and inheritances can bring about many legal and financial difficulties. At the Legal Expat Desk, our experts can help you prepare yourself and your loved ones and save everyone more difficulty during a trying time. If you have questions about inheritance law or any other legal issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Thijs Sarneel specialises in family and inheritance law. Within family law, Thijs negotiates and litigates on behalf of his clients, who often include entrepreneurs and expats (or their partners). In such cases, the emphasis is frequently on complex settlements, the division of companies and real estate and financial issues. In inheritance law, Thijs is involved in the division of estates and family businesses, frequently in an international context.
Thijs provides an analytical approach with a strong sense of purpose, efficiency and strategy, in order to identify the heart of your problem, then find a suitable solution.
Because of his special interest in the art world, Thijs also regularly deals with matters in the field of art and law.