Home Finance Taxes Expat guide to inheritance tax in Belgium, inheritance law and drawing a last will
Last update on August 15, 2019

Inheritance tax in Belgium can apply to worldwide assets; find out if your assets or real estate are subject to Belgian inheritance law and what Belgian inheritance tax you are liable to pay.

For expats who move to Belgium or retire in Belgium, it is important to be aware of any implications on your inheritance, assets and estate planning. For many foreigners, Belgian inheritance law will apply as well as inheritance tax in Belgium, although exemptions apply.

This guide explains which assets and real estate are subject to Belgian inheritance law for foreigners, and who is liable to pay inheritance tax in Belgium. It also explains the law of succession law in Belgium when no will exists (intestate law) and what happens to unclaimed inheritance, plus how to draw up a will in Belgium.

Belgian inheritance law

In the event of a death, surviving relatives may also be eligible to access the deceased’s Belgian pension assets. More information is explained in our guide to Belgian pensions.

Belgian inheritance law

Belgian inheritance law is residence-based, meaning that if Belgium is your country of principle residence (i.e., the country where you normally live and where your family and economic interests are based), then Belgian inheritance law will apply upon your death. Read more about non-resident taxpayer status in Belgium.

EU legislation means that if a person has their principle residence in Belgium, then Belgian inheritance law applies to their whole estate, including real estate owned abroad. However, foreign residents can opt to have their estate handled according to the laws of their home country instead (explained below).

Belgian inheritance law follows a system of forced heirship. This means there are some restrictions on how the deceased’s estate is distributed, in that a certain percentage has to be passed to heirs. The remainder, however, can be distributed according to a will. Transfer of an estate is automatic under Belgian inheritance law and there is no requirement for any probate or court order.

New Belgian inheritance rules for 2019

In September 2018, a new system came into force that designates that children of the deceased will share half of the estate in total, regardless of how many of them there are. The other half of the estate will be subject to a continued life interest for the surviving spouse or legal partner. More freedom has also been given to people writing wills to be flexible over who inherits their estate and set up agreements within the family.

There have also been reforms that affect types of inheritance. Previously, the value of a gift such as money or movable possessions would have been assessed at the time it was made, with property assessed at the increase in value between when the gift was made and when probate was granted. Now, however, both types of gift will be valued based on the date the gift was made, indexed to inflation on the day of death.

Belgian inheritance law: no will (intestate)

If no will has been left, Belgian intestate law determines that the estate is divided equally between:

  • children and grandchildren;
  • if there are no children or grandchildren, it is divided between parents and grandparents;
  • if no parents or grandparents make a claim, it is divided between siblings and their relatives;
  • if there is nobody from any of these groups to distribute to, the estate passes to the Belgian government.

The rights of the surviving spouse depend on the situation in cases where there is no will:

  • If the deceased has one or more children, the spouse is entitled to earn dividends, interest, and rent from the estate.
  • If there are no children but other legally recognised heirs, the spouse inherits the community property and is entitled to earn interest from any private property owned by the deceased.
  • If there are no heirs, the spouse inherits the whole estate.

All beneficiaries to an estate, whether as heirs or through a will, can choose whether to accept or reject their inheritance. Under Belgian inheritance law, there are three options:

  • Accept an inheritance, which means obligation to pay debts even if they exceed the value of the estate.
  • Accept under beneficium inventarii (benefit of the inventory), which means that debts cannot exceed the value of the estate.
  • Rejection of inheritance.

Accepting under beneficium inventarii and rejection must be given in a declaration to the clerk of the court.

Belgian inheritance law for foreigners

A change in EU rules on cross-border successions came into effect in 2015, meaning EU citizens or official residents can choose whether the laws of their country of residence or their country of nationality apply to their estate upon their death.

This applies even if you are a national of a non-EU country. The rules don’t apply in Denmark, Ireland, and the UK, as these countries opted out. They will, however, apply to nationals of these countries if they live in a participating EU member state.

If you are an expat living in Belgium and want the inheritance laws of your country of nationality to apply rather than Belgian inheritance law, you need to express this clearly in a will or separate declaration. These laws will then apply as long as they don’t contravene local public policy (e.g., discrimination of heirs based on gender, discrimination of heirs based on being born out of wedlock).

Belgium inheritance tax

The EU rules do not apply to not apply to the following matters linked to your inheritance:

  • inheritance taxes;
  • your civil status;
  • the property regime of your marriage/partnership (how your property should be divided after the death of your spouse/partner);
  • matters concerning companies.

Belgian inheritance tax

Inheritance tax in Belgium is levied on all assets other than real estate outside Belgium if the deceased lived in Belgium, and on real estate inside Belgium if the deceased was based abroad. There is an exemption for inheritance tax purposes for diplomats from the EU and NATO residing in Belgium for work.

Belgian inheritance tax (erfbelasting in Dutch or les driots de succession in French) is paid on the net value of the estate. This is the total value of assets plus corrections (debts, gifts, life insurance policies) minus liabilities (outstanding loans, maintenance payments, hospital bills, funeral costs, capital taxes paid abroad).

Inheritance tax in Belgium is a regional tax and thus varies from region to region. Belgian inheritance tax is paid to the region in which the deceased was a tax resident for the majority of the last five years of their life. Inheritance tax rates in Belgian regions are as outlined below.

Inheritance tax in Brussels in 2019

Tax-free allowances of €15,000 apply to spouses and direct descendants/ascendants (with an extra €2,500 per year for children under 21 years of age); all others can claim a tax-free threshold of €1,250.

 

Children, parents, spouse, grandparents/children

Brothers, sisters

Uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces

Other heirs

Up to €50,000

3%

20–30%

35%

40%

€50,000–€100,000

8%

40%

50%

55%

€100,000–€175,000

9%

55%

60%

65%

€175,000–€250,000

18%

60%

70%

80%

€250,000–€500,000

24%

65%

70%

80%

€500,000+

30%

65%

70%

80%

Inheritance tax in Flanders in 2019

Residents in Flanders are given a tax-free allowance of €500 for inheritances less than €50,000.

Children, parents, spouse, grandparents/children

Brothers, sisters

Other heirs

Up to €50,000

3%

25%
(up to €75,000)

25%
(up to €75,000)

€50,000–€250,000

9%

30% (up to €125,000) then 55%

45% (up to €125,000) then 55%

€250,000+

27%

55%

55%

Inheritance tax in Wallonia in 2019

The tax-free allowance for spouses and direct descendants/ascendants is set at €25,000 for inheritances less than €125,000, and €12,500 for inheritances more than €125,000 (with an extra €2,500 per year for children under 21 years of age); €620 tax-free is granted for all other heirs.

Children, parents, spouse, grandparents/children

Brothers, sisters

Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews

Other heirs

Up to €12,500

3%

20%

25%

30%

€12,000–€25,000

4%

25%

30%

35%

€25,000–€50,000

5%

35%
(up to €75,000)

40%
(up to €75,000)

60%
(up to €75,000)

€50,000–€100,000

7%

50%

55%

80%

€100,000–€150,000

10%

50%
(up to €175,000)

55%
(up to €175,000)

80%

€150,000–€200,000

14%

65%

70%

80%

€200,000–€250,000

18%

65%

70%

80%

€250,000–€500,000

24%

65%

70%

80%

€500,000+

30%

65%

70%

80%

Taxes on family businesses transferred in inheritance

  • Brussels: 3% flat rate (if company meets certain conditions of employment, investment and minimum shareholding).
  • Flanders: businesses located in EU are exempt if the deceased held at least 50% of shares and certain employment conditions met.
  • Wallonia: 3% maximum rate.

Double taxation on Belgian inheritance tax

Belgian inheritance law dictates that residents in Belgium pay tax on global assets, while non-residents only pay Belgian inheritance tax on Belgium-based assets. Belgium doesn’t generally grant any relief from double taxation with respect to inheritance tax, meaning that assets can be subject to double tax.

Only inheritance tax paid on real estate abroad can be exempt from double taxation, while any other capital tax paid abroad can be offset as a liability against the net value of the estate.

Inheritance tax in belgium – last will

Belgium only has double tax treaties regarding inheritance tax with France and Sweden.

Last wills in Belgium

If you are an expat living in Belgium, there is no legal requirement to draw up a will in Belgium. Belgian authorities will recognize wills drawn up in other countries. However, if you are a foreign resident and you haven’t stipulated in your will that you want your estate to be handled according to the laws of your country of nationality, Belgian inheritance law will apply.

If you have left proportions of your estate that encroach upon Belgium’s reserve that has to go to recognised heirs, these amounts will have to be reduced.

It is possible to change a will at any time and it’s also permissible to have two wills – a Belgian will and one drawn up in your home country – as long as one doesn’t accidentally revoke or negate the other. It is best to consult with a solicitor first if you are thinking of doing this.

There are three types of will in Belgium:

  • Holograph will: written entirely by hand and either kept at home or filed with a notary.
  • Public or authentic will: received by a notary in the presence of two witnesses, or received by two notaries.
  • International will: advisable when either the testator, heirs or assets are non-Belgian. The will is signed by the testator, a notary, and two witnesses and then attached to an attestation by the notary who will be responsible for keeping it.

How to draw up a last will in Belgium

The process of drawing up a will in Belgium varies depending on which type of Belgian will you choose.

Holograph will

This is the simplest and least-expensive option, although it takes longer to execute than other Belgian will types. The will needs to be written by hand, signed, and dated. The will can be filed with a notary or it can be kept at home. Upon death, the will is taken to a notary who will act as the executor for the will.

Public or authentic will

This Belgian will needs to be drawn up and then read by the notary in the presence of two witnesses. The will needs to acknowledge the reserved part of the estate subject to forced heirship. The will is signed in front of the witnesses. This option guarantees that procedures are followed correctly although it is more expensive, with fees paid to the notary.

International will

This also involves presenting your Belgian will to a notary in the presence of witnesses, but the will is concealed in an envelope and doesn’t need to be read out in advance and doesn’t get checked to make sure it follows guidelines. The notary keeps the envelope, together with an attestation of your declaration that it contains your last will and testament.

Public/authentic wills and international wills are registered with the Central Register of Last Wills and Testaments in Belgium.

The Royal Federation of Belgian Notaries provides more information and a tool to find notaries by postcode.

Unclaimed inheritance in Belgium

If an inheritance is unclaimed, if there are no heirs or it is rejected by all beneficiaries, then the estate is passed to the Belgian state.

More information