Home Finance Money Management Writing a will in the Netherlands
Last update on October 12, 2020
Written by Beatriz Camacho

Writing a will in the Netherlands can ensure that you have total control of who will inherit your estate and how this estate will be distributed.

Recent reforms and bilateral agreements allow certain foreigners to avoid being subject to Dutch inheritance law and inheritance tax on worldwide assets with the appropriate will revisions.

As an expat who is living in the Netherlands, it is important to be aware of any Dutch inheritance and tax implications on your assets. This way you can make sure that you avoid double taxation or at least limit it as much as possible. This guide explains the essentials of inheritance law in the Netherlands and conditions for writing a will, including the following :

Wills and estates in the Netherlands

An estate includes all the assets (such as a house, car, bank, and savings accounts) and liabilities (such as a mortgage and personal loans) left by the deceased. If you are married with a prenuptial agreement, this can influence the size of the estate. If the liabilities are greater than the assets, the heirs inherit the debt. In this case, they can refuse the inheritance.

will

Smaller possessions (such as clothing, jewelry, books, and household objects) can be bequeathed by a separate codicil of will.

If the deceased did not leave a will, the heirs are determined by the Dutch law of succession. However, if you want to distribute your estate in a different way from what the law says, and/or if you have specific wishes regarding your estate, it is important to make a will. If you own your own business, you should also stipulate who the successor is.

Inheritance tax for the heirs

It is important to know that your heirs will have to pay inheritance tax on your estate. Furthermore, the amount they will have to pay depends on the amount of your estate and who inherits it; your partner, children/grandchildren, or others. Gifting can be a smart way of saving on inheritance tax, however. For example, each year you can give your heirs up to a certain amount of money tax-free; as well as a larger one-off sum.

The residence of the deceased is more relevant to the Dutch authorities than the places where his/her assets are located. Therefore, no matter where the assets are, if someone who was a resident in the Netherlands dies without leaving a will, the heirs will pay inheritance tax on all of them.

Inheritance law in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, you pay inheritance tax on any inheritance you receive. Inheritance consists of the estate (assets and liabilities) left by a deceased person. However, if you are an expat, there are some particularities that you need to know about the Dutch inheritance law.

The first step is to determine which country’s law applies to an inheritance because this will affect how the estate will be divided as well as the rights and duties of the heirs. Basically, the Dutch inheritance law will apply to Dutch nationals currently living in the Netherlands and foreign residents living in the Netherlands for five years before their death.

Changes to EU rules

However, there have been recent changes to EU rules, which means that EU citizens living abroad (in most countries) can now choose whether the law of their home country or their country of residence applies. If a foreign resident dies without leaving a will or making an official declaration on which law they wish to apply, the law of the country in which they resided for the last five years will apply.

When there is no will

If a person dies in the Netherlands without leaving a will, the law states that the estate is equally distributed between the spouse/registered partner and children. In the case of no spouse/partner or children, the parents and siblings will share the estate. Grandparents and great-grandparents are the next and the last ones in the succession line. However, note that a partner who is not married to the deceased or has not a registered partnership is not considered an heir and is barely protected by law.

Read more about this in our guide to inheritance tax in the Netherlands.

Inheritance for children

When the children achieve the majority (18 years old), they can handle their inheritance on their own. Rules of community of property apply in the Netherlands, meaning that – unless a matrimonial agreement has been made to the contrary – all assets of a married couple are jointly owned. In the event of death, the surviving spouse/partner automatically retains her/his half, and the other half becomes the deceased’s estate.

writing a will

Dutch inheritance law includes provisions for forced heirship, which places some restrictions on how an estate is distributed. Under forced heirship, the children of the deceased are entitled to claim 50% of what they would have received under intestacy rules if they are disinherited. Spouses and registered partners who are disinherited can also claim lifetime use (usufruct) of the family home or other estate assets.

Inheritance law on pensions in the Netherlands

If your partner (or ex-partner) died and you were financially dependent on her/him, you may be able to have a benefit under the ANW (Algemene Nabestaandenwet –“survivor’s benefit”). However, if you are the surviving partner and you are under the AOW pension age, look after a child under 18, or you are more than 45% incapacitated for work, you can qualify for an Anw survivor benefit.

Criteria for pensions

To be eligible for all the pensions above, the partner (or ex-partner) must have lived in the Netherlands or have worked and paid tax in the Netherlands.

Furthermore, the deceased’s partner will immediately receive a death grant. The amount of the death grant is equal to 1 month’s AOW pension and is paid once only. The following persons can get the death grant:

  • the surviving partner;
  • (if there is no surviving partner) the children (under 18);
  • the person who shared a house with the deceased up to the date of death

Tax-free allowance for partners

Inheritance tax is not due on the survivor’s pension. However, note that the value of this pension will be deducted from any exemption the partner may be given. Partners have a tax-free allowance of €650,913. However, half of the cash value of any pension right derived by a partner from the death of the deceased is deducted from this amount; with the condition that a minimum allowance of €162,071 always remains.

Applicable foreign inheritance laws in the Netherlands

If you receive an inheritance from abroad when living in the Netherlands, you will probably have to deal with foreign legal systems. However, if the person you are inheriting from was a resident from another EU country, it is simple to determine which laws apply to his/her estate.

Elderly woman signing contract

If the person had a domicile outside Europe, however, the situation will depend on other factors, such as the location of the assets and where the deceased lived. The first step is to determine which country’s law applies to an inheritance. As we previously mention, the Dutch inheritance law will be applied to Dutch nationals currently living in the Netherlands and foreign residents living in the Netherlands for five years before their death.

For the Dutch authorities, the residence of the deceased is more relevant than the places where the assets are located. Therefore, no inheritance tax is levied on Dutch real estate or assets received from non-residents of the Netherlands. However, in other countries, the law may be different, and then you will have to pay two sets of inheritance tax. As a result, the Netherlands has been making double tax treaties with several nations to allow foreign residents to avoid double taxation.

EU citizens living abroad

EU citizens living abroad (in most countries) can choose whether the law of their home country or their country of residence applies. If a foreign resident dies without leaving a will or making an official declaration on which law they wish to apply, the law of the country in which they resided for the last five years will apply. These rules don’t apply in Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. It will, however, apply to nationals of these countries if they become resident elsewhere in the EU. You can find details on country-agreements for cross-border succession in the European Commission’s official website.

Rejecting assets and contesting a will in the Netherlands

Heirs have a right to choose whether to accept or reject an inheritance. As inheritance in the Netherlands can consist of assets or debts, heirs can also choose to accept only on the condition that the assets exceed the debts. If an heir chooses to reject an inheritance, the decision is irreversible.

Under Dutch inheritance law, the estate passes to heirs directly by universal succession, so there is no need for probate proceedings.

When the heirs don’t agree

When the heirs don’t agree with the distribution of the assets, they can take legal action and contest the will (if there is one). There are some situations in which an heir can contest a will in the Netherlands, such as:

  • forgery
  • misinterpretation of the will or faulty construction (the most common reasons for challenging a will)
  • the testator was incapacitated when the will was drawn up
  • unworthy heirs (for example, if the heir has threatened or endangered the testator)

Mistakes due to a lack of information on the part of the testator at the time, which may have determined him to proceed otherwise, may be a motive to contest a will.

Inheritance law in the Netherlands if there is no will

If you live in the Netherlands and you don’t have Dutch nationality, you may choose –  through a will – to apply the succession law of the country of your nationality. In case you don’t make a will declaring your choice and habitual place of residence as the Netherlands, then Dutch law will apply.

The Dutch law on succession states that the deceased’s estate is equally distributed between the spouse/registered partner and children. In the case of no spouse/partner or children, the estate is shared between parents, brothers, and sisters. Grandparents are the next, and great-grandparents are the last in the succession line. Note that a partner who is not married to the deceased, or doesn’t have a registered partnership with them, is not considered an heir and is barely protected by law.

family inheritance

If there is a surviving spouse/partner and children, Dutch inheritance law under statutory provision states that the estate passes to the spouse/partner. However, the children retain a monetary claim on the estate equivalent to their share, which they can cash in in the event of the death, remarriage or bankruptcy of the spouse/partner.

In the case that there are no blood relatives (and therefore legal heirs) up to the sixth degree, then the inheritance belongs to the Dutch State.

Unclaimed inheritance in the Netherlands

In the case that there are no blood relatives (and therefore legal heirs) up to the sixth degree, the inheritance belongs to the Dutch State. This also applies if no heirs are known or want to inherit. The legacy is then deposited in the consignment fund of the Ministry of Finance.

Heirs can claim the inheritance within 20 years. After that, the right to claim the estate expires.

Gifts before death

A gift is a property transfer without the expectation of payment. For a gift to legally occur, the donor must be aware that he or she is transferring the property and intends to do so without receiving compensation. Finally, the recipient must accept the property for the gift to be completed. As a consequence of this transfer, the donor loses all ownership rights over the property.

Dutch inheritance tax rates and gift tax rates are the same, but the exemptions allowed in case of gifts and inheritance differ from each other. Gifting can be a good tax planning strategy, as some exemptions apply depending on the relationship between the gift-giver and receiver and the purposes for giving that gift. For example, children of all ages can receive €5,320 tax-free for any purpose. This amount can increase to €25,526 if the children are between 18 and 40 years old.

If the gift is intended to finance an expensive course of study, the maximum exemption allowed is €53,176. In addition, if the gift is intended to finance a home purchase, the exemption is €100,000. But note that you can only use the mentioned exemptions once in your lifetime.

For gifts received from somebody other than their parents (grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc), the exemption is €2,129 tax-free for any purpose or €100,000 tax-free to purchase a house.

The 180 days rule

It is important to be aware that under Dutch law, a “180 days rule” applies. It means that if the donor dies within 180 days of making the gift, the gift is treated as an inheritance. This law is intended to prevent someone from making gifts immediately before their death to reduce inheritance tax. This does not apply if the gift is to a child, and the increased exemption for gift tax is used.

Finally, be aware that giving on paper requires a deed of gift to be drawn up by a civil-law notary. It is cheaper if you prepare the deed yourself.

Wills in the Netherlands

If you are an expat living in the Netherlands, there is no legal requirement to make a Dutch will. Dutch authorities will recognize wills drawn up in other countries if they conform with the national standards. 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, Dutch inheritance laws apply.

Changing a will

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

A will drafted in the Netherlands has to be made under Dutch law, which means that a notary will have to make up a deed in order for the document to be valid. Making a will allows you to have total control of the arrangements regarding succession and the division of your estate; such as choosing who will be the executor, if you will give some money to charities or friends, and so on.

Types of wills in the Netherlands

There are two main types of Dutch wills: a notarial last will and a holographic will.

  • Holographic will: the testator writes this will by hand and signs it. If another person writes it up, the testator signs each page. The document must then be deposited with a civil law notary who certifies the deposit of the will;
  • Notarial will: The testator dictates his/her will to a notary, who ensures the will complies with Dutch standards. The notarial is then registered with the Central Register of Wills on the first following working day.

Thus, under Dutch law, to be deemed valid, all wills require the involvement of a civil law notary. It is advisable to contact more than one notary, to compare fees, once they are free to set their fees, depending on the type of work done (writing, legal advice, or registration only). The cost of registration for both holographic and notarial wills is about €9.

Certain possessions (such as clothing, jewelry, books, and household objects) can be bequeathed by a separate codicil of will, which is a handwritten and signed document. If war or civil war is ongoing, an officer of the armed forces serves as witnesses for emergency wills. The Netherlands does not recognize joint wills.

How to write a will in the Netherlands

Foreign citizens living in the Netherlands can register their wills, but only if they were made with the help of a Dutch notary. So it is not possible to register wills that were made abroad. Both holographic and notarial wills can be registered. The notary who has drawn up the will must register the information on the first following working day in the Central Register of Wills (CTR).

Required documentation

To the registration, the following data is needed:    

  • family name and first name(s) of the testator
  • date and place of birth of the testator
  • address of the testator
  • type of will
  • date of the will
  • date of registration of the will
  • name and address of the depository public authority

A will can be drawn up only by notarial deed or by handwritten private deed handed over to a notary for safekeeping. A will made by two or more testators is not accepted.

Appointing an executor

To help the heirs, you can appoint an executor or an administrator in your will, but it is not mandatory. The executor can be a relative, a good friend, or a professional executor. He or she can be responsible for the funeral, manage the estate, and take care of the tax returns, for example. They are also responsible for the settlement of the estate so that it can be distributed among the heirs. It is the deceased who will limit the executor’s authority.

Making a will allows you to have total control of the arrangements regarding succession and the division of your estate, such as choosing who will be the executor, if you will give some money to charities or friends, and so on.

To avoid any complications regarding international estate, it is recommended to include arrangements that apply to all your estate in only one will. More information about notaries in the Netherlands is available in the Koninklijke Notariële Beroepsorganisatie (KNB) and its related website, Notaris.

Executing a will and grant of probate in the Netherlands

The executor named in the will by the testator has limited powers according to the law. He or she can normally administer the estate and settle the debts of the estate. If the executor is appointed as a special executor, he or she can transfer goods and take all decisions concerning the division of the estate without the permission of the heirs.

Getting a notary deed

In the course of or at the end of succession proceedings, if an heir has legal incapacity (on account of being a minor or on account of receivership/judicial administration), a notarial deed is necessary for the transfer of immovable property or rights in immovable property in the Netherlands. In all other cases, the declaration of inheritance is sufficient for the transfer of goods, such as bank accounts and other movable property.

Under Dutch inheritance law, the estate passes to heirs directly by universal succession, so there is no need for probate proceedings. If you are an expat, an international inheritance lawyer can help you understand how cross-border inheritance works and make better choices for your estate.

Evaluating your estate in the Netherlands

With regard to items of jewellery, you must state to whom each piece is to be given, however this is not necessary for books and clothing. Furthermore, you cannot bequeath money in a codicil.

An estate includes all the assets (such as properties, car, and savings) and liabilities (such as a mortgage and personal loans) left by the deceased. Certain possessions (such as clothing, jewelry, books, and household objects) can be bequeathed by a separate codicil of will. A codicil is a handwritten and signed document that you can keep with you.

Civil law notary

To determine the estate value, you should consider the economic value of the deceased’s worldwide assets, minus the debts at the time of his/her death. Regarding real estate, the most recent WOZ value (real estate law valuation) needs to be taken into account. The result of all these valuations must be submitted to the tax administration.

Read more in our guide to buying a property in the Netherlands.

Inheritance tax in the Netherlands

Inheritance tax in the Netherlands is levied on the estate of the deceased. It is payable on all worldwide assets of anyone who is classified as a Dutch resident for tax purposes at the time of their death.

Read our guide to inheritance tax for more information.

Tips on planning your estate in the Netherlands

Dutch inheritance tax rates and gift tax rates are the same, but the exemptions allowed in case of gifts and inheritance differ from each other. However, one fact is for sure: you and/or your heirs will have to pay taxes on them anyway. But you can reduce the amount that is owed.

The first step may be to consult a civil law notary, who can offer you personal advice, based on your circumstances. The notary can help you with your will; which can ensure that you have total control of who will inherit your estate. Also, in your will, you can state that the law of your country of nationality should be applied to your estate instead of your last country of residence.

In addition, there are ways to reduce the amount of tax due on your estate, such as making gifts during your lifetime to your heirs or use the matrimonial property law.

Gifting can be a good tax planning strategy, once some exemptions may apply; depending on the relationship between the gift-giver and the receiver, and the purposes for which the gift has been made.