INHERITANCE PROCEEDINGS IN CROATIA
Inheritance proceeding is a non-contentious proceeding initiated following the death of a natural person, when the court receives the death certificate or an equivalent document regarding the deceased. Heirs, the inheritance and the rights that belong to certain heirs or other persons are determined in an inheritance proceeding.
Inheritance proceedings are conducted by public notaries, acting on behalf of municipal courts as their commissioners. The court that forwarded the inheritance proceeding to a notary public supervises his work, while the courts themselves can also conduct certain inheritance proceedings due to important reasons. Territorial jurisdiction for inheritance proceedings is determined by the testator’s residence, permanent or alternatively temporary, at the time of death; by the place where the majority of the property is situated; or by the register of citizens in which the testator is enlisted in.
Immediately after the testator’s death, persons who possess the will are obligated to deliver it to the nearest Municipal court and to inform the court of any knowledge of the will’s existence, regardless of whether the will is valid or how many wills there are. Before conducting the inheritance proceedingsthe court also requests information about the existence of a will from the Croatian register of wills. It’s important to underline that the will is an extremely formal statement of last will, for the validity of which, it is crucial it is made in accordance with one of the exact ways prescribed by law.
The central part of the inheritance proceedings is the probate hearing, to which the interested parties, such as potential heirs, legatees, executor and others, are invited.
At the probate hearing, the heirs are invited to give their statement of inheritance, accepting the inheritance, renouncing the inheritance or ceding the accepted inheritance to another heir. Once given, the statement of inheritance is irrevocable. If an heir renounces from the inheritance, his part is distributed evenly between the remaining heirs, and if there are no heirs of the same inheritance line, the heirs of the next degree are called to inheritance. The heir can also renounce from the inheritance only on his own behalf, allowing his own heirs – typically children – to accept the inheritance from the deceased. If the heir wants to cede his share to another, specific co-heir, he must first accept the inheritance, and then cede it. In absence of a statement of inheritance, it is considered that the heir accepts the inheritance. Once given statement of inheritance, with which an heir renounces from or cedes the inheritance, does not apply in relation to successively found property of the deceased.
The heir who accepted the inheritance is responsible for the debts of the deceased up to the value of the inherited property, underlining that the creditors have the right to request payment from heir’s entire property and not only from the inherited property, while the court takes into consideration whether the value of the inheritance is exceeded only upon the heir’s objection. This also applies to the cases when an heir acceptsthe inheritance only to cede it to another heir. Creditors, existence of whose claims is made probable as well as the risk for settlement of the debt in the case of passage of possession to the heir, may require the separation of inheritance from the heir’s property within 3 months of their debtor’s death, but in this case, the debt can be settled only from inherited property and not from heir’s entire property.
The inheritance proceeding ends with the decision on inheritance. If the decision has been issued by a notary public a complaint can be made by the unsatisfied party within 8 days from the delivery and if it has been issued by the court, the same can be appealed within 15 days from the delivery. However, the question remains: “What if an interested party did not participate in the inheritance proceedings, because of a missed invite?”. In this case, (only) such a person is not bound by the legal validity of the decision on inheritance with the respective right to challenge the veracity of such a decision in a lawsuit against the person in whose favor it was issued.
If, during the inheritance proceedings, the facts that determine some of the interested parties’ rights become disputable, the court shall instruct the parties to resolve the matter in a lawsuit or an administrative procedure. The party, whose right is considered less likely by the court, is instructed to initiate the proceeding. Some disputable rights may be, for example, the right to separation of marital property from the inheritance, the validity of the will, the size of the inheritance shares and other. If a person instructed to initiate the proceeding does so within 30 days, notifying the court of it, the inheritance proceeding is interrupted until the final outcome of the lawsuit.
When circumstances demand special caution, the interested parties may suggest the insurance of inheritance during the proceeding by handing it for safekeeping to a trusted person, the court or a notary public or in some other suitable way. When the heirs are unknown or when they’re not able to administrate the inheritance, the court orders ex officio a list of property and insurance of the property to be made.
It is important to note that the Regulation on inheritance no. 650/2012 applies to all inheritance proceedings of natural persons deceased from 17 August 2015 onward if they had a connection with another Member State of the EU. Among other things the said Regulation prescribes the jurisdiction, the applicable law and the recognition and enforcement of decisions in inheritance matters. The Regulation introduces the European certificate of inheritance which proves the status of the heir in other EU member states, with a validity period of 6 months.
According to the Regulation, the courts of the EU Member States competent to conduct inheritance proceedings are the courts of the state where the deceased had a habitual residence at the time of death or of the state with which the deceased had the closest connection to. The competent court is authorized to discuss the entire inheritance, thus abrogating the earlier exclusive jurisdiction of Croatian courts to discuss the inheritance consisting of real estate situated in Croatia. Depending on the particular case, the laws of different Member States can be applied to the proceeding, while the testator also has the possibility to determinate the application of the law of the state of his citizenship.