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Liquidating a simple estate

This is a print of a page on Rechtspraak.nl. Look for the most up-to-date information on Rechtspraak.nl (http://www.rechtspraak.nl). This page is printed on 01-01-1970.

Heirs may decide to accept or disclaim an inheritance. When accepting, they can choose between accepting it outright or under benefit of inventory.

Liquidating a simple estate

Liquidation

You are an heir and you have accepted an inheritance under benefit of inventory. This means that you do not have to pay off the deceased person’s debts out of your own pocket. However, you do have to settle the estate in accordance with certain rules. If you fail to do so, you risk having to pay off those debts yourself. This web page explains what these rules are and how you can approach the settlement. This settlement is called vereffening (liquidation) in law. 

This information is intended for simple estates. Think of this as meaning the estate of someone who did not own (or no longer owned) a house, had few if any valuable assets, had less than € 10 000 in the bank and had either no debts or a large amount of debt. The settlement of the estate becomes more complicated if: 

  • the deceased owned a business or had a lot of valuable assets; 
  • one or more of the heirs is a minor; 
  • one or more of the heirs is under administration or in receivership; 
  • the deceased has disinherited a child; 
  • or there is disagreement between the heirs. 

In these cases, it is better to seek the assistance of a legal adviser with extensive knowledge of inheritance law, such as a notary. 

If you are looking for general information on settling estates, please visit www.notaris.nl (in Dutch) (pdf, 0 B).

What is liquidation?

Following beneficiary acceptance, the estate must be liquidated. Liquidation entails managing the assets of the estate, and paying off the debts of the estate. 

  1. Managing the estate
    Managing means:
    • looking after the estate; 
    • making sure nothing is damaged or lost; 
    • ensuring that costs are not incurred unnecessarily;
    • and opening mail and responding to it when necessary. For example, the Tax and Customs Administration will ask for a contact person to be designated. Any mail from the Tax and Customs Administration will then be sent to this contact person. This could be mail about the inheritance tax return, or letters about tax assessments and any outstanding debts and penalties. If you sign up to be the contact person for the Tax and Customs Administration, you are their point of contact in matters concerning the deceased. The fact that you are the contact person for the Tax and Customs Administration does not yet make you responsible for settling the estate or paying off any debts. The heirs are responsible for this.

  2. Debts of the estate
    The law specifies what debts of the estate (schulden van de nalatenschap) are. These are all of the deceased person’s outstanding debts, as well as certain expenses that have to be incurred after the death. These include:
    • funeral costs, 
    • the cost of a certificate of inheritance, 
    • and the cost of paying residence and valuation fees.
    If something is a debt of the estate, then money from the estate may be used to pay off that debt. Make sure you don’t start paying off any debts until you have a full overview of them. Only then will you know which debt needs to be paid off first and whether there are enough funds to do so. Only funeral expenses can be paid in advance. 

    NB: following the rules is important

    The law sets out special rules for liquidation. These rules are there to ensure that creditors get what they are entitled to, as far as possible. If you follow these rules, you can be sure that the creditors will not be able to approach you personally. If you do not, you run the risk of having to pay off the deceased’s debts out of your own pocket. 

    Who has to liquidate?

    There are two possibilities:

    1. the heirs themselves liquidate the estate; or 
    2. the court appoints a liquidator. 

    The court can appoint a liquidator for various reasons, for example if not all the heirs are known. You can also ask the court to appoint a liquidator. You will need a lawyer for this. In this situation, we assume that the heirs themselves are liquidating the estate. 

    Heirs are joint liquidators

    The heirs must liquidate together. They must confer, and they are jointly responsible for following the rules. Doing everything together can be inconvenient. For example, if something has to be signed, everyone has to do it. With this in mind, the heirs also have the option of appointing one person from among them to liquidate. This can be done with a power of attorney. If one person has been appointed to liquidate, they must keep the other heirs informed of the claims and they must discuss important decisions, such as the sale of estate assets. The heirs remain jointly responsible at all times. 

How do I handle liquidation?

Liquidation has three phases (and one preliminary phase):

  1. draw up an inventory; 
  2. monetise; 
  3. pay off the debts. 

Paying off the debts is the ultimate goal of the liquidation. If anything remains after that, it goes to the heirs. They may then divide this between themselves.

Preliminary phase: not everything needs to be done straight away

The law gives you time to draw up an inventory and liquidate the estate. Creditors must bide their time for the first 3 months after someone dies. You therefore have time to work out what bills are still coming in, go through the admin, and make a list of all the creditors. 

What does have to be done urgently? 

Funeral

First, the funeral must be arranged. A funeral costs money. These costs may be paid from the estate. Bear in mind, however, that these costs must be proportionate to the deceased’s standard of living. Therefore, you must not arrange a very expensive funeral if the deceased lived frugally or if it is uncertain whether there is enough money to pay off all the deceased’s debts. 

NB: the person who instructs the funeral director is responsible for paying the bill, even if there is not enough money in the estate. 

The bank

The bank where the deceased had an account must be notified of the death. The account is then blocked. On the one hand this is safe, because no further withdrawals can be made, but on the other hand it can cause difficulties because, for example, the costs of the funeral must be paid immediately. Many banks are willing to allow the funeral director’s bill to be paid from the deceased’s account, even if that account has been blocked. But it may be that you have to advance the costs of the funeral. 

It may be some time before you have full access to the deceased’s bank accounts. What you need to do to gain that access varies from bank to bank. Most banks have a dedicated page on their website for surviving relatives, where you can find the information you need.

Not allowing debts to increase further

It is also important that you do not allow the deceased’s debts to increase any further. This means cancelling all current contracts and subscriptions as soon as possible. Think of the internet, television and telephone, but also the rent. 

Vacating

If the deceased lived in a nursing home, you must usually vacate the room as soon as possible. Valuable items must be kept in a safe place; the rest may be disposed of or given to heirs. Make sure you can prove that any items disposed of were of no value. This can be done, for example, with a witness statement from someone at the nursing home, a reliable estate-clearing company, or an appraiser. It may also be useful to take photos of the items.

If the deceased lived in a rented home and there are no co-tenants, the rental contract must be terminated as soon as possible. The premises will therefore have to be vacated. Again, valuable items must be kept in a safe place; the rest may be disposed of or given to heirs. 

Take any paperwork and admin away with you; you will need it to liquidate.  

1. Draw up an inventory

Inventory

The first step is to draw up an inventory. You start by making a list of the deceased’s assets and debts. This list is known as a boedelbeschrijving in Dutch.

Assets must include bank and savings balances, life insurance policies and valuable items. There is no need to describe the entire contents (furniture, contents of cupboards, etc.), because contents usually have no resale value. Only the really valuable things must be included on the list. You must then work out what items you can sell for more than € 200. 

Also check whether the deceased was owed any money. Had the deceased borrowed money? Are there any outstanding back-payments or benefits? 

Debts 

Then, you list all the debts. These can be found in the deceased’s records. Look at the direct debits in the statements. If there are no paper copies and you do not have digital access to the bank details, you must first request this access from the bank. It often takes time to organise this, so start as soon as you can. Ask the bank what you need to do to obtain that access. 

Often, physical mail and emails will continue to arrive for some time. This mail will also give you an insight into the deceased person’s obligations. 

Write to creditors

You must ask creditors by email or letter for a list of the deceased’s total debts. Common creditors are the Tax and Customs Administration, the municipality, the housing corporation and credit card companies. An example letter can be found here in Annex E.2 on page 37 (in Dutch) (pdf, 497 KB).

Tip: you can ask the Tax and Customs Administration for an overview of the deceased person’s tax debts. That way, you do not have to map out all the tax debts yourself. In this case, write to Belastingdienst/Erfbelasting, Postbus 4660, 5601 ER Eindhoven. 

More debts than assets?

Once you have a complete list of assets and debts, you can see whether the estate is positive or negative. A positive (or ‘solvent’) estate contains enough money to pay off all the debts. A negative estate is one in which there is not enough money to pay off all the debts. In that case, the deceased had more debts than assets. 

NB: if the estate is negative, you must report this to the district court as soon as possible. You must write a letter to the district court in

The district court oversees the liquidation of negative estates. If the district court deems it necessary, it will give you instructions. You will then receive a letter containing these instructions. You must follow the instructions. For example, one instruction might be to try to track down as-yet unknown creditors through an advertisement in the digital and/or paper version of the Government Gazette (Staatscourant). This kind of advertisement is free of charge. 

Making the inventory available for inspection 

You must submit the inventory to the boedelregister (in Dutch) (estate register) of the district court in the judicial district where the deceased was last resident. You can combine submitting the inventory for inspection with reporting a negative estate. You do not need to await confirmation of receipt of the inventory from the district court to be able to proceed with the liquidation. You can now continue with the next steps. 

2. Monetise

Monetising means selling. You only sell the deceased’s belongings if this is necessary to pay off the debts. It is therefore not always necessary for everything to be sold before debts are paid off. If selling the car gives you enough money to pay off all the debts, then you do not need to sell the rest of the assets for the purpose of the liquidation. However, you may wish to do so, if all heirs agree. You are free to decide how you wish to handle the sale. For example, you could use an auction house; offer household effects, books or collections to a buyer; or sell items through a marketplace or similar websites. It is also possible to sell to an heir, but not at an excessively low price. The price must be normal.

If you have sold enough to pay off all the debts, this phase of the liquidation is complete. It is also possible that after selling everything that the deceased owned, there is still not enough to pay off all the debts. In that case, the estate is negative. If you have not already done so, you must inform the district court that the estate is negative. You must keep track of what you have sold and at what price. A creditor who is not paid their entire claim may ask you to provide evidence of the price at which you sold a particular item.

3. Pay off the debts

There is enough to pay off all the debts

If there is enough to clear all the debts, you can start paying them off. Once all the debts have been paid off, the liquidation is complete. No official confirmation of the completion of the liquidation is required. Therefore, you do not need to inform the district court or any other official body that the liquidation is complete. What remains of the estate may be paid out to the heirs. 

There is not enough to pay off all the debts

If there is not enough to pay off all the debts in full, you must draw up a distribution list. This is a proposal to pay off some of the debts. You write down how much money there is in total and what percentage each creditor will receive. 

NB: not all creditors are equal. Some creditors hold a special position. These are known as preferential creditors. When debts are paid off, preferential creditors must be paid first. For example, the Tax and Customs Administration may this type of creditor. The funeral director is also a preferential creditor. 

Creating a distribution list is complicated. It is beyond the remit of this web page to describe everything involved in drawing up a distribution list. If you would like to know more about this, please read the Richtlijnen vereffening nalatenschappen (Estate liquidation guidelines) (in Dutch) (pdf, 497 KB). You can also seek the opinion of a legal adviser with knowledge of inheritance law, such as a notary. 

Cancelling a liquidation

If it is clear that there is already too little to pay off all the tax debts, you can apply to the district court to cancel the liquidation. There is then no point in drawing up an official distribution list. 

You can also request that the liquidation be cancelled if the funeral expenses and the costs you have to incur to liquidate the estate (‘liquidation costs’) together exceed what is in the estate. Liquidation costs include: 

  • the costs of vacating the deceased person’s residence; 
  • valuation costs 
  • the costs of storing valuable items; 
  • necessary notary fees (such as for the certificate of inheritance); 
  • brokerage fees. 

You cannot charge your own costs (such as travel expenses or the time you spent on the liquidation) to the estate. If the district court cancels the liquidation, you will be issued with a ruling to that effect. If you still need to do anything, it will be specified in that ruling. The cancellation will also be published in the boedelregister (in Dutch)

Making the distribution list available for inspection

If a distribution list has been drawn up, it will be made available for inspection in the boedelregister (in Dutch) of the district court in the judicial district where the deceased was last resident.  

The liquidation is complete. What now?

If, after all the debts have been paid off, there is any money or property left over, then the heirs can divide it between them. The district court does issue any confirmation to say that the liquidation is complete. The district court does not provide certified copies of inventories. 


Q&A

Can I, as an heir, take certain valuable items from the deceased person’s home?

If you do this, you run the risk of your actions being regarded as an act of outright acceptance and that you are therefore liable for all debts arising from the inheritance.

You can prevent this by temporarily storing the items you take with you, and therefore not selling or keeping them for yourself.

I have disclaimed an inheritance. Can I change my mind about this choice?

No, that is not possible. A declaration to disclaim cannot be reversed.

I want to start distribution proceedings. Can I conduct an urgent procedure without the extensive procedure?

Yes. If you start an urgent procedure (summary proceedings), you are not obliged to follow the extensive procedure. However, it is often necessary to do so.

 

Legal advice

Would you like personal advice on your situation? Do you need assistance with drafting documents or during the hearing? You have the option at all times to engage the services of a lawyer or other legal advisor. A lawyer is not required for every case.


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