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19 May 2023 Heirs’ right to information in an estate

The loss of a loved one is an emotionally draining time, but at the same time, heirs face various legal issues.

An important right that heirs have is the right to information regarding the estate. This right allows heirs to understand the financial and legal aspects of the estate so that they can make informed decisions.

Heirs' right to information

The right to information is a fundamental right that allows heirs to know the full extent of an estate. This includes not only financial matters, such as bank accounts, property, debts and other assets, but also legal aspects, such as wills, gifts and any tax matters. The right to information means that, as an heir, you have the right to get all the information you need to understand the estate and determine your share in it.

Why is the right to information important?

The right to information of heirs is crucial for several reasons:

1. Transparency: Heirs have the right to know what is in the estate. This allows them to understand the deceased's financial situation and to clarify any ambiguities or hidden assets.
2. Protection of interests: The right to information protects the interests of the heirs. By having access to all relevant information, heirs can make informed decisions regarding the estate and avoid any disputes.
3. Inheritance tax and debts: The right to information enables heirs to determine the extent of any debts or inheritance tax liabilities. This is essential when distributing the estate and complying with legal requirements.
4. Accountability of the executor: In cases where an executor has been appointed, the right to information helps heirs to supervise the executor's actions and ensure that he/she performs his/her duties correctly.

How can the right to information be exercised?

Heirs can exercise their right to information by making a request to the executor or the notary in charge of settling the estate. Should that request not be complied with and your right to information is violated, going to court could offer a solution.

Enforcing information in summary proceedings

Recently, the interim relief judge of the District Court of Noord-Holland (ECLI:NL:RBNHO:2023:3014) ruled on the right to information of heirs. The plaintiffs were the children of a father who had died. That father also left behind a wife, who was not the mother of these children. At the time of the father's death, he was married to the surviving wife under a prenuptial agreement. No children had been born from his marriage to this wife. In his will, the father had named both his wife and his children as heirs. In addition, the father had appointed an accountant as executor/settlement administrator.

The children wanted to see the bank statements of several of their father's bank accounts because the father had drawn down almost €220,000.00 in savings during a five-year period prior to his death. They did not believe that their father had really lived so generously and suspected donations or unverified transfers. They wanted to investigate this further as it could impact the determination of their share of the estate.

The children then requested the relevant bank statements from both the executor and the wife. The wife refused to provide the requested information, or at least to cooperate. The children then initiated summary proceedings in order to force the required cooperation from the wife based on penalty payments and thus exercise their right to information.

Even before the Court in preliminary relief proceedings could consider the matter, the wife made up her mind and agreed to cooperate as yet in requesting the desired bank statements. That undertaking was deemed sufficient by the Judge. But on the wife's defence that, because of the appointment of an executor, the children would not be independently authorised to take legal action and the defence that the children had no urgent interest in their claim, the Judge gave a clear ruling.

The Judge considered that the children, as heirs, were partners in their father's estate and that the requirements of reasonableness and fairness implied that partners were mutually entitled to information about the size and composition of the estate. According to the Provisional Court, an heir ( the wife) has an obligation to his co-heir ( the children) to provide that information needed to determine his inheritance claims, and any heir who is a shareholder in the estate can request information from another shareholder and, if necessary, in legal proceedings, request that that shareholder be ordered to do so.

On the requisite urgency for a claim in summary proceedings, the Provisional Court was brief. According to the court, the urgency here follows from the nature of the claim.

If you run into problems or ambiguities with an inheritance or estate due to you, or if you would like to know more about your rights and duties as an heir, Mr Angelique van den Eshoff, inheritance lawyer at SPEE advocaten & mediation, will be happy to assist you. She can advise you on your rights and what you can do to protect them.

SPEE advocaten & mediation Maastricht

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