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If a deceased person leaves behind debts, creditors can seek payment from the deceased’s estate, which consists of the assets left by the deceased. In this case, the debtor’s heirs are summoned to fulfill the claim. If they accepted the inheritance “with the benefit of inventory,” creditors, after exhausting the assets of the estate, cannot pursue their claims from the personal assets of the heirs. However, if the heirs accepted the inheritance without the benefit of inventory or took actions indicating its acceptance (such as selling the deceased’s assets), they may be liable for the deceased’s debts with their assets.
What happens to debt after the debtor’s death?
When a person dies, their estate, including their obligations like debts, passes to the heirs. According to the Civil Code, the rights and duties of a deceased devolve to heirs based on a will. In the absence of a will, inheritance occurs based on statutory provisions, which categorize heirs into four groups:
- Group I: Children, spouse
- Group II: Spouse, parents, siblings
- Group III: Grandparents
- Group IV: Municipality of the last place of residence, the State Treasury
Heirs inherit both assets and liabilities. However, they can limit their liability for the deceased’s debts to the value of the inheritance. This means accepting the inheritance with the “benefit of inventory.” In such cases, heirs are not personally liable for debts that exceed the value of the inherited assets. The declaration of accepting the inheritance with the benefit of inventory must be made in the form of a statement before a court or a notarial deed within six months from the day they learned about the inheritance.
Rights of an heir
An heir has several options regarding the inheritance. They can accept the inheritance without any limitation on their liability for debts (simple acceptance), accept it with limited liability (acceptance with the benefit of inventory), or reject the inheritance.
During the six months from the day an heir becomes aware of their entitlement to the inheritance, they are afforded protection. During this period, inherited debts do not increase, and creditors cannot demand payment beyond the inherited assets. In cases where the deceased’s estate is complex or the obligations are expected to exceed the assets, the court may appoint an estate administrator. Their role is to collect and sell the deceased’s assets to satisfy creditors to the greatest extent possible.
Rejecting the inheritance
Learning about the debts in the inherited estate does not immediately necessitate a decision to reject the inheritance. A different situation arises for an heir when the value of the inheritance exceeds the value of the debts. However, if the value of the debts is higher, it is advisable to reject the inheritance. In any case, when facing such a situation in Poland, consulting with a Polish lawyer or notary is recommended to fully understand the details and potential consequences of inheriting.
An heir has six months from the day they became aware of their entitlement to accept or reject the inheritance. Failure to make a declaration within this period is considered acceptance of the inheritance with the benefit of inventory.
Creditors must also be mindful of time limits. If they do not take action within the specified timeframe, their claims may become subject to limitation. The debtor’s death does not alter the timeline for pursuing their claims.