Succession

Succession may take place pursuant to a succession contract, a will, or law.

In order to be eligible for succession, the successor has to be a natural person who was alive at the time of the bequeather’s death, or a legal person that existed at the time. Also eligible for succession is a child who was born after the death of the bequeather but was already conceived by the time of the bequeather’s death.

A person who has caused the bequeather’s death (except in cases where it was in self-defence), or has prevented the bequeather from making or changing a will or a succession contract, is not eligible for succession. Furthermore, a person who has removed or destroyed the will or succession contract after the bequeather was no longer able to renew it has no right for succession. A parent who has lost parental rights cannot be an intestate successor of his or her child.

Law of Succession Act

Pursuant to the Law of Succession Act that entered into force in 2009 the estate is transferred to the successor upon the opening of succession (upon the death of the bequeather), after which the successor has the right to renounce the succession. If the successor does not renounce the succession within three months of learning of the bequeather’s death, he or she is considered to have accepted the succession.

The new Law of Succession Act also introduces the new concept of the community of an estate. To put it in simple terms, that means that the estate and the rights and obligations involved in the estate belong jointly to all co-successors. As a result, they can dispose of – for example sell – any items in the estate only jointly, which in turn means that the consent of all co-successors is needed for selling any single item. In case of community of the estate, co-successors can dispose of as well as divide the estate. A co-successor may independently dispose of his or her legal share of the community of the estate, i.e. of all the assets belonging to the community of the estate.

Succession Register

An electronic national register that contains data on wills, succession contracts and succession matters. The Succession Register is maintained by Harju County Court.

Succession contract

A succession contract is an agreement between the successor and the bequeather with which the successor either renounces his or her succession right or is named as the successor; however, by being named as the successor, the successor may also need to assume obligations toward the bequeather.

A succession contract cannot be changed unilaterally by the bequeather and therefore it is a very binding arrangement for the event of one’s death. A succession contract must be notarised.

Estate

Pursuant to the Law of Succession Act, an estate is the property of the bequeather. The bequeather’s rights and obligations that are inseparably connected with the bequeather’s person pursuant to law or by nature are not considered as an estate. The estate is transferred to the successor at the moment of the opening of succession, although the final formalisation takes place at a later time.

Debts in case of succession

In addition to assets and rights, the estate also includes the bequeather’s liabilities, which may even surpass the value of the assets.

The debts of the deceased become the liability of the successors who have accepted the succession. If there is more than one successor, the bequeather’s debts are distributed among the successors in proportion to their share of the estate. The successors have solidary liability toward the creditor of the deceased – that means that the creditor may demand the repayment of the entire debt from any one successor, regardless of the size of his or her share of the state. However, once the successor has repaid the debts, he or she may collect the amount that surpassed his or her share of the liabilities from the rest of the successors, depending on the size of their shares. If the debts of the deceased surpass the value of the estate, the successor must repay the debts also from his or her own assets.

Inventory of an estate

In order to limit his or her liability to the value of the received estate, the successor must request making an inventory of the estate by a bailiff in the course of the succession procedure. If the successor requests making an inventory of the estate, he or she may refuse to fulfil the bequeather’s obligations until the inventory has been made. As a result of making the inventory, the successor is liable only in the extent of the estate. The inventory does not relieve one from repaying debts; it merely limits the successor’s liability to the value of the estate.

If the inventory makes it clear that the liabilities surpass the assets, the successor must request from a court the declaration of bankruptcy of the deceased, in order to limit his or her liability. The successor’s liability is also limited in case the bankruptcy proceeding results in abatement.

Renunciation of succession

The deadline for renunciation of succession is three months from the moment when the successor learns or must have learned from the bequeather’s death and his or her right of succession. In order to renounce the succession, an application for renunciation of succession must be submitted within three months of the bequeather’s death or of learning of one’s right of succession. A notary may extend the three-month deadline or set a new deadline if the person eligible for succession has passed the deadline with good reason and if other persons eligible for succession do not object. Once succession has been renounced, it can no longer be accepted.

Succession procedure

To initiate a succession procedure, the successor submits to the notary a succession application that the notary notarises. In order to initiate the succession procedure, the application may be submitted by the successor, a creditor of the successor, a legatee or another person who has rights to the estate.

The notary issues to the successor a succession certificate, once he or she has determined the whole circle of successors and the successor’s right of succession and its extent have been demonstrated well enough. A succession certificate cannot be issued by a notary until a month has passed from the announcement of the initiation of succession procedure in the official publication Ametlikud Teadaanded (Official Notices) to find all possible successors. Once the right of succession and its extent have been sufficiently demonstrated by the notary, the notary notarises the succession certificate, the issuance of which also signifies the end of the succession procedure.

The estate and the rights and obligations included in the estate belong to all of the co-successors jointly. Therefore they may dispose of – for example sell – individual estate items only jointly, which in turn means that the consent of all co-successors is needed for selling any single item.

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Last amended: 13-06-2017 00:00 | Compiled by: Ministry of Justice, Chamber of Notaries