When you die in Belgium, your death must be reported at the registry office (état civil / burgerlijke stand) in the town hall of the place where you died, and not of the commune where you are living at the time of your death. The death must be reported by a relative with a doctor’s certificate; usually the funeral undertaker takes care of this.
The registry office will record the death, and issue a certificate. Copies of that certificate will be provided to allow your relatives to inform the employer, the social security authorities, the mutuelle, the pension funds, the banks, etc ... They also need such a certificate to get some time off work for personal reasons.
When the death is recorded in the population register, the tax authorities are automatically notified and the receiver of your local registration tax office will write to your relatives to remind them that they have to file an inheritance tax return.
When the bank is informed that you have died, they will block all your bank accounts, even the joint accounts you have with your spouse or partner.
How long the accounts are blocked depends on the situation.
It is only if one of your heirs is living outside the European Economic Area that the bank is obliged, by law, to freeze the account. The European Economic Area includes the 28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The bank accounts remain blocked until a certificate is delivered confirming that the inheritance tax has been paid or that sufficient guarantees have been given for the payment of the inheritance tax.
However, if all your heirs live in the European Economic Area, the only obligation that banks and financial institutions have is to inform the tax authorities how much money you have on your accounts before they release any money from these accounts. They have to declare how much money is on the current and savings accounts and list the securities held on investment accounts.
Why do the banks block your accounts ? It is really to limit their responsibility and to make sure that they pay out to the rightful heirs that the bank freezes your bank accounts.
What does that mean ?
For your spouse this means that he or she does not have access to your accounts or even their own accounts. In practice, the banks will pay any hospital and funeral bills. However, they will not pay e.g. the rent, even if your last salary or pension is paid into the account.
Banks are permitted to pay the hospital and medical bills for the last year as well as the funeral bills.
Moreover, your spouse or civil partner can draw up to €5,000 from all the blocked accounts, with a maximum of half of the balance of the account. If they withdraw more than that, the excess is deducted from what they inherit.
What is more important is that if they draw money from the account, they cannot refuse the inheritance anymore, even if the deceased leaves more debts than assets.
In general the banks will require a certificate of succession (akte van erfopvolging / certificat d’hérédité) identifying you and your heirs in accordance with the Belgian legal rules and your Will. That certificate can be drafted by a notary or by the receiver of the local registration tax office. That can take a number of weeks because they will first investigate with the Central Register of Wills and they have to check that you and your heirs do not have any outstanding tax or social security debts.
The bank will also ask your heirs to sign a document confirming who can receive the money. Normally, this should not take more than two or three weeks, but if the heirs disagree, the account can remain blocked for a longer period of time. Moreover, if the deceased or the heirs have any outstanding tax or social security debts, the bank will have to pay these first.
If the deceased had any heirs outside the European Economic Area, the tax authorities will have to authorise the release of the bank accounts, after the tax has been paid.
If you have a safe deposit box with a bank (even in joint names with someone else) the bank will seal the safe. The safe cannot be opened until the bank or a notary has drawn up an inventory of the contents of the safe. The tax authorities must be invited to the opening of the safe. They will receive a copy of the inventory.
Insurance companies in Belgium have a legal obligation to notify the tax authorities of the existence of any insurance contracts you or your spouse have subscribed for any tangible movable assets ; those can be te furniture, jewels, art, the car, etc. This gives the tax authorities an idea of the value of your estate.
Belgium does not have a legal process comparable to probate for administering and distributing the property of a deceased person.
Upon death, property passes automatically to your heirs. Your heirs are then responsible for the administration of the estate. In Belgium we do not have executors who act as personal representatives of your estate. This does not mean that you cannot appoint an executor in your Will to be your representative who must make sure that your last wishes are respected; an executor does not administer or take possession of your estate.
If there is a Will, the heirs are required to comply with it. A Will signed before a notary automatically has full effect. A handwritten Will and an international Will do not have the same effect. Upon death the handwritten Will must be lodged with a notary, who will open it and record the receipt and the state of the Will. The notary takes the same steps in relation to an international Will. He will lodge a copy of the handwritten or international Will with the court of first instance.
For bank accounts, the heirs must provide a certificate of succession. For real property, the transfer is recorded in the land registry (the cadastre / kadaster) by the tax authorities when they process the inheritance tax return. If you make a bequest to a friend, he must contact your heirs to receive it. It is only if there is a dispute between or with the heirs that cannot be solved amicably that matters are taken to court.
In Belgium, the age of majority is 18. When one parent dies, there is no need to appoint a guardian for minors; the surviving parent will be the guardian. It is only when both parents of a minor have died that a guardian must be appointed.
The guardian is officially appointed by the justice of the peace (vrederechter / juge de paix).
You can appoint a guardian in your Will, or in a statement before the justice of the peace or a notary. The justice of the peace is not obliged to appoint the guardian you proposed. If he considers that your guardian is unsuitable or that appointing him would not to be in the best interests of the children, he can appoint someone else. In international situations, when the guardian lives outside Belgium, the justice of the peace will normally take interim measures for the protection of the children and their assets.
If you have not appointed a guardian, the justice of the peace will appoint one, preferably a close family member. The justice of the peace will interview children over 12 and he will meet their brothers and sisters who are over 18, the grandparents, the uncles and aunts and anyone else who may wish to be heard.
The justice of the peace will also appoint a supervisory guardian, preferably from the family of the other parent, who will report to him. The justice of the peace can also appoint two guardians, one who will look after the children and one who will be responsible for financial matters.
Nobody can be obliged to act as a guardian or a supervisory guardian, and they can always ask to be released.
If the child has a dispute with the guardian he can file a complaint with the public prosecutor's office if he is 12 (15 for money matters). A guardian who does not look after the best interests of the children can be revoked.
The guardian must make an inventory of the estate of the child. He manages the property of the minor and he reports every year about the education of the child and his finances. However, he needs the authorization of the justice of the peace for major financial decisions such as the sale of property.