Belgium’s succession law will be modernized, as Belgium will prune its forced heirship rules and adopt more flexible rules allowing donors and testators to give away or to bequeath more. The forced heirship principle is withheld. A transition period is put in place to allow everyone to decide on the options to be taken.
Descendants and spouses maintain the position of most important protected heirs, but without descendants, spouse or legal partner, ascendants are also protected heirs. The latter changes: ascendants (such as parents) will no longer be protected heirs.
This will offer new inheritance planning options, including for expats without children residing in Belgium. Parents will maintain a succession claim if the child passes away without descendants where there is no will that stipulates otherwise. If the child has a spouse the inheritance claim of the parents is limited to the bare ownership of other than the common assets (as is today).
Legal partners are not protected by forced heirship rules. They have a limited intestate claim on the inheritance (i.e., they are entitled to the usufruct of the family home).
The usufruct is the right to use an asset and the right to collect the revenue of an asset. The bare ownership is the ownership without the usufruct.
The unprotected portion increases to half of the estate regardless the number of children. The spouse remains entitled to at least the usufruct of half of the estate. The minimum for spouses is the usufruct of the family home, even if the value of it would be more than half of the estate (as is today).
The new rules will therefore allow also more flexibility to parents with two or more children.
The forced heirship rules do not prevent giving away more than the unprotected portion of one’s assets, nor do they prevent someone from bequeathing more than the unprotected portion. Protected heirs have the right to claim back what was given away beyond the forced heirship rules or may object to the execution of a will that would have failed to take care of their rights.
Belgium is bound by the EU Succession Regulation. Belgian forced heirship rules may be put aside if a different applicable succession law on the basis of the regulation would be applicable following a valid and effective choice of law.
It is expected that the second phase of the reform, regarding matrimonial property regimes, will be dealt with by the Belgian parliament as soon as the new succession rules will have been put in place.