Recomposed Families and Succession Handling

Nowadays, recomposed families are more and more common. Indeed, more than one out of ten Belgians is part of such a family! And each household has its specificities: remarried partners or cohabiting, children from a previous marriage, children of the new couple, step-brothers and sisters... Whatever your legal relationship to them, when it comes to inheritance, anticipation is key. Indeed, if you start thinking about it today, you will be able to make sure that, later, your assets will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. 

Who can inherit if I do not state my wishes?

If you do not plan your succession, the principle of “legal devolution” applies, as always. In this case, it means that your “natural children”, be they your children from a previous and/or your current relationship (with or without any marriage) will automatically inherit. As for your partner, it all depends on the situation: if you were “mere cohabitants”, he/she will not inherit. Yet, if you were legal cohabitants or married, he/she will be entitled to part of the inheritance with usufruct (a larger part if you were married) . Finally, your step-children, meaning the children that your current partner had from a previous relationship, will ne be considered as your heirs, even if you were married with their mum/dad (unless you had decided to adopt them, which is another matter). 


Which tools can I use to modify the distribution of the assets?

The traditional tool: a will

In such as case, a will remains the most straightforward and simple tool. Indeed, even if you cannot modify the distribution of the “minimum share” (which amounts to 50% of your estate), you have the right to decide how the remaining 50% will be shared. And, contrary to common belief, writing a will is not that complex


The alternatives: a marriage settlement or a donation between spouses

You may also use other tools, especially if you wish to protect your new partner and have him inherit more than the usufruct only. For example, you might decide to add a specific provision to your marriage agreement (if you are married with your current partner) that allows you to bequeath some of your assets to this partner. In this case, he/she will inherit a larger share than what is stipulated by the law (provided that this share does not impinge with the minimum share that is intended to your natural children, otherwise, they might oppose to this provision). 

If your marriage agreement has been drafted correctly, your partner should be protected. Nonetheless, it does not prevent you from taking further precautions, such as making a donation. That way, instead of inheriting of the sole usufruct on the house and the furniture (if you were married or legal cohabitants, not “mere cohabitants”), your partner will benefit from the full ownership on the assets that were part of the donation (again, provided that it does not impinge with the minimum share of your children). 


How can I protect myself and my children if I marry again?

According to your situation and your current partner’s, you may wish to make provisions to protect you and your children. Such a tool exists: the “Pacte Valkeniers”, which allows to limit, or even remove, inheritance rights granted to your partner (if you are married). 

For example: Marc and Lucie are both divorced. Marc has two children from a previous relationship and Lucie, three. They decide to get married. Yet, in case of death, they both want their own children to inherit from their assets, without one another inheriting from the usufruct. Using the “Pacte Velkeniers”, they are allowed to waive or limit their right of usufruct on their partner’s assets so that the children can benefit from it. 

Another example: Marc has been working all his life. He therefore has a comfortable amount of money aside and receives a pension, whereas Lucie, who dedicated most of her life to her children, has much less money. Marc may thus decide to have Lucie inherit from the usufruct on his assets while Lucie may choose to remove Marc’s rights on her assets, as he already has a sufficient income. 


Think, discuss, anticipate

The very diverse family situations means there is no one-size-fits-all solution. To avoid worries and bother when time comes, it is better to anticipate those matters and to discuss them with your partner and your children (and potentially, your partner’s children) in order to make the right decision and take the measures that most reflect your wishes. Do not hesitate to contact our team of experts to receive advice and/or answers to your questions.