Home Finance Taxes Russian inheritance law and writing a Russian will
Last update on March 20, 2020

When does Russian inheritance law apply to your worldwide assets? This guide explains who is subject to Russian inheritance law and how to write a Russian will to protect your assets.

What are the Russian inheritance laws regarding your assets? Does Russian inheritance tax apply? These are questions you need to consider if you have relocated to Russia as a foreigner. You may have already written a last will and testament in your home country, but at which point is it recommended to draft a will in Russia?

This guide covers the key points of Russian inheritance law and Russian inheritance tax, as well as explains the different types of Russian wills and how to draw up a Russian will.

Inheritance law in Russia

Russian inheritance law comes from the Civil Code and the Civil Procedure of the Russian Federation as well as the Russian Fundamental Legislation on Notarial System. Section 5 of the Civil Code deals with the Law of Succession.

Inheritance laws in Russia cover all official residents, both Russian nationals and foreigners living in the country, as well as non-residents who own property in Russia. In such cases, you will have at least part of your estate dealt with under Russian inheritance law. This law applies to all worldwide assets of Russian residents (both national and foreign) with the exception of real estate overseas.

German inheritance law

Russian inheritance law applies forced heirship with regard to any minor or disabled children, disabled spouse and parents, and any disabled dependents. If the deceased is survived by any of these, they are automatically entitled to 50% of what they would have received under the laws of intestate succession, even if there is a will.

Russian law also recognizes joint matrimonial property as the standard so, unless a marriage contract has been drawn up to the contrary, a married couple’s assets are considered jointly-owned and the surviving spouse automatically retains 50% of all assets upon death. The remaining half is considered the deceased’s estate to be divided.

Russian laws of succession

The remainder of the estate can be distributed at freedom according to a last will and testament. If a person dies without leaving a Russian will, the estate is distributed according to the Russian laws of intestate succession.

There is an order of statutory inheritance with heirs divided into eight groups. The whole estate is divided between all surviving heirs of the highest available group. Heirs from lower groups only inherit if there are no surviving members of higher groups, or if everyone from higher groups has rejected their share. The groups are as follows:

  • Children, spouse and parents (Group 1)
  • Siblings (both full and half) and grandparents (Group 2)
  • Aunts and uncles (Group 3)
  • More distant relatives, step-children, step-parents, disabled dependents (Groups 4–8)

If there are no disputes, Russian inheritance cases do not need to be heard by a court and will be dealt with by a Russian notary. An inheritance must be accepted within six months of the opening of succession. Heirs are free to reject an inheritance under Russian inheritance law.

There are no restrictions on donation of assets during a person’s lifetime under Russian inheritance law, providing donations do not affect portions reserved under forced heirship.

All property owned in Russia needs to be registered with the Russian authorities; there are certain restrictions on land ownership by foreigners, who are not allowed to own land in the border territories.

Russian pension

If the deceased was claiming a Russian pension, certain family members may be entitled to claim money in the form of a survivor’s pension. The conditions are explained in our guide to Russian pensions.

Inheritance tax in Russia

Inheritance tax in Russia, along with gift tax on donations, was abolished in January 2006. In some instances, cash donations and legacies will count towards a person’s taxable income for Russian income tax purposes.

Unclaimed Russian inheritance

Russian will

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

Russian will and testament

If you are a foreigner living in Russia or if you have real estate in Russia, it can sometimes be worth considering writing a Russian will. Foreign wills are recognized in Russia if they comply with the national standards but, as Russian inheritance law will apply to all of your assets (except real estate abroad), you will have to pay to have a foreign will translated and may also have to wait for a Grant of Probate before things can proceed.

It is permissible under Russian inheritance law to have two wills – a Russian will and a will made in your own country – as long as one will doesn’t accidentally revoke or negate the other. It is best to consult with a solicitor if you are thinking of doing this. Official notaries will be members of the Federal Notary Chamber.

There are two main types of Russian will:

  • Standard notarial will: a Russian will drawn up under guidance from a Russian notary and registered.
  • Closed will: a Russian will drawn up and signed by the testator and then given to a notary in front of witnesses.

A person in Russia is also permitted to draw up an emergency Russian will under extraordinary circumstances, such as if they are in a life-threatening situation and may not survive to make a will through normal means. This is a handwritten will made and signed in front of two witnesses. If an emergency Russian will is made and the person making it survives the life-threatening situation, the will becomes invalid within a month of the life-threatening situation ending.

A Russian will can be revoked or altered at any time either by writing a new will or destroying an existing will. An emergency will made under extraordinary circumstances cannot revoke a normal will that has been drawn up previously and will not stand if there is an existing will.

Writing a will in Russia

The general rules for writing a Russian will include the following:

  • A Russian will needs to be given by the testator, signed and include the date and place.
  • Witnesses to the will cannot include the notary, a beneficiary of the will, minors, illiterate persons, or anyone without the capacity to understand the nature of the event.
  • The absence of witness for the relevant parts will render a Russian will null and void.

Notarial will

  • This Russian will can be handwritten or typed either by the testator or by the notary acting on the testator’s instructions.
  • If the will is written out by a notary, the testator has to read it back to the notary before signing it.
  • A witness can be present if the testator wishes. The witness will also sign the will.
  • Once the will has been written and signed, the notary will register the will in Russia.

Closed will

  • This Russian will is drawn up in private by the testator. This has to be handwritten and signed.
  • The will is sealed in an envelope and given to a notary in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses sign the envelope and the notary then places it inside another envelope.
  • The notary adds an annotation detailing the date and place, along with personal details of the two witnesses.
  • Following the death of the testator, a notary opens the will in front of two witnesses.

There is no requirement under Russian inheritance law for an executor of a will to be appointed, but a testator can name one in their Russian will if they so wish. If an executor has not been named, a notary will administer the estate.