What Does Inheritance Mean and How Does It Work
The Difference Between Legal and Testamentary Inheritance
The legal language often has technical terms that, most of the time, have an equivalent in the common language used by the general population. One of these terms is “inheritance”: what is inheritance, and what does it mean?
In a single sentence, we could define inheritance as the division of a deceased person’s assets among their heirs. It encompasses the procedures that govern the transfer of ownership of their assets and the assumption of their debts.
What Is the Opening of Succession?
It’s often said that some rights (e.g., the right to contest a will, which has a 10-year time limit) start running from the opening of the succession. What does this mean? The opening of the succession coincides with the day of the person’s death. From this moment, the transmission of inheritance rights begins, and typically, deadlines, including tax-related ones, start for fulfilling the required formalities.
Where Is the Succession Opened?
The place where the succession is opened is the deceased person’s last place of residence. This is crucial for identifying the competent offices to carry out the procedures required by the law. For instance, the declaration of acceptance of the inheritance with the benefit of inventory or the renunciation of the inheritance must be filed with the Succession Registry at the Court where the succession was opened.
How Many Forms of Succession Exist?
Succession can take two forms:
- Testamentary (if there’s a will).
- Legal (if there’s no will).
Legal succession occurs when the deceased person hasn’t made a will, when the will is invalidated, or when not all assets are addressed in the will (in which case, the remaining assets follow the legal distribution).
So, when someone passes away, the first step is to check if they left a will. If there is no will, or if it’s incomplete or invalid, the deceased’s assets are divided following the legal rules, prioritizing close relatives like spouses and children. In the absence of relatives up to the sixth degree, the inheritance goes to the state (but the state is responsible for the debts only up to the value of the inheritance).
What Is the Object of Succession?
The object of succession is the entire estate of the deceased, including assets and liabilities. However, certain rights and duties cease to exist upon death, such as spousal support or alimony, which do not transfer to heirs. Similarly, fines or penalties (administrative, tax-related, or criminal) expire upon the individual’s death, and heirs are not obligated to pay these debts or fines.
Is Succession free?
Agreements concerning one’s own succession are null and void. The only valid instrument for disposing of one’s assets is a will. This means that one cannot enter into an agreement while alive to regulate their own succession with the consent of potential heirs (institutional succession pacts). It’s not legitimate, for instance, to sign a contract in which a person forgives a debt in exchange for someone else leaving them certain assets in their will.
Similarly, heirs cannot, while the relative is still alive, waive their rights to their inheritance or the actions to protect their inheritance rights. Consider the case of a parent wanting to donate a significant portion of their estate to one child and asking others to sign a waiver renouncing any legal actions; such a document would have no legal value.
The potential heir cannot dispose of or waive the rights they might have concerning the succession of a still-living individual.
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