On January 1st 2014, the new Czech Civil Code has become effective. It has brought many vital changes to various areas of the civil law, the law of succession included.
The Civil Code regulates three options for what will happen with person’s estate when he or she passes away. Either the deceased (in legal terminology “decedent”) has left a testament which is a revocable expression of will whereby the decedent leaves his/her estate to one or several persons. Or, where there is no testament, the distribution of decedent’s estate is regulated by the succession described in the provisions of Civil Code. Finally, in case no heir inherits under the statutory succession, the inheritance is devolved to the state.
The purpose of this article is to briefly describe the statutory succession which is the most common way of estate distribution since only a minority of decedents in the Czech Republic had drafted a testament during life.
The new Civil Code regulates 6 classes (groups) of potential heirs. The new provisions widened the sphere of possible heirs since the previous Civil Code defined only 4 (narrower) classes.
When it comes to the statutory succession, the body handling the inheritance proceedings (typically the notary) firstly identifies the potential heirs of the deceased (i.e. relatives and cohabiting persons) and subsequently compares this group of individuals with the classes of heirs one after another until the suitable class is found, i.e. until some of the potential heirs fit the definition of the class.
Thus in the first class the decedent’s children (or children’s offspring) and spouse inherit the estate, each of them with equal share. However, if there are no children, the spouse cannot inherit the entire estate alone. In such a case the notary continues to test whether there is a second class of heirs.
In the second class of heirs the spouse, decedent’s parents and those who lived with the decedent in the common household for at least one year before his death and also cared for the common household or were dependent in maintenance on the decendent (so called “cohabiting persons”) shall inherit the estate. In this class the spouse always inherits at least one half of the decedent’s estate, other heirs inherit the rest of the estate in equal shares.
If neither the spouse nor the decedent’s parents inherit, the decedent’s estate will be equally divided in the third class of heirs to decedent’s siblings (or their children) and the cohabiting persons.
The list of potential heirs then continues in other classes with grandparents, great-grandparents, grandnieces and grandnephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. You can see all the potential heirs in the diagram.
Apart from the marriage, the Czech legislation also recognizes a similar form of bond for homosexual couples. So called “registered partners” have the same position in the inheritance law as the spouses and their share in estate is therefore secured by the provisions of Czech Civil Code.
This does not apply for another frequent group of persons which are usually close to the deceased, the stepchildren. In order to become decedent’s heirs, the stepchildren (and similarly also the unmarried partners of both sexes) must fit the category of cohabiting persons. Such status can be quite difficult to prove in potential dispute.
For the person having such a close person which would not clearly fit the statutory class it is therefore advisable to execute a last will during life in order to secure such person’s inheritance rights.
In case you need to know more details about the Czech inheritance law, you can contact our inheritance department.
Authors: Monika Rutland & Michal Dobias - rutland ježek law firm
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