The Global Property Guide looks at inheritance from two angles: taxation, and what inheritance laws apply to foreigners leaving property in Bulgaria: what restrictions there are and whether making a will is advisable.
How high are inheritance taxes in Bulgaria?
Bulgarian citizens and foreign individuals inheriting Bulgarian property are subject to inheritance tax. Bulgarian citizens are also liable to pay inheritance tax in respect of properties received from abroad.
The surviving spouse and relatives in the direct line are not liable to pay inheritance tax on their own inheritance.
Thedeceased´s estate is valued in the local currency (BGN)atthedateofdeath of the deceased. The debtsofthedeceased,asevidencedtothe taxauthorities, andcertainfuneralexpensesuptoBGN1,000 (€510) are deductible.
The tax is payable by the heirs in respect to their own inheritance. The first BGN250,000 (€127,551) is exempt from taxation.
The applicable tax rates are set by the municipalities where the property is located and may vary depending on the beneficiary´s relationship to the deceased and the value of their inheritance.
- The rates vary between 0.4% and 0.8% on inheritances received by relatives in the lateral line (brothers, sisters, and their descendants).
- The rates vary between 3.3% and 6.6% for all other beneficiaries.
Gift tax is levied on Bulgarian property given as a gift or donation. The tax base is the market value of the property on the day it was acquired by the beneficiary.
The applicable tax rates are set by the municipalities where the property is located and may vary depending on the beneficiary´s relationship to the donor and the value of the donation. The rates vary between 0.4% and 0.8% on properties received by relatives in the lateral line. For all other beneficiaries, the rates vary between 3.3% and 6.6%.
What inheritance laws apply in Bulgaria?
Inheritance is subject to Bulgarian Law.
Bulgarian Inheritance Law is governed by the Inheritance Act of 1949, the International Private Law Code of 2005 and the Civil Procedure Code of 1952 (effective until 1 March 2008, when the new Civil Procedure Code of 2007 comes into effect).
The disposal of assets held in Bulgaria by deceased Bulgarian nationals and foreigners is subject to Bulgarian Inheritance Law in compliance with the following principles:
- The law treats equally both local and foreign citizens, and makes no distinction on the grounds of religion, nationality, residence or other criteria.
- The inheritance of movable property is regulated by the law of the state where the deceased had usual residence at the time of his/her death. (An individual is considered to have usual residence in Bulgaria if he/she lives in Bulgaria for more than 185 days in each calendar year).
- The inheritance of immovable or real property is regulated by the law of the state where the property is situated ( lex rei sitae ).
- A foreigner may choose by will an estate to be dealt with under the law of his/her nationality (except for the "forced heirship" rules and reserved portion which cannot be affected by such choice).
- If the foreigner´s national law provides that the relevant inheritance law is that of the country where his/her property is located (i.e. Bulgarian law), then the principles of Bulgarian Inheritance Law apply
- If Bulgarian law prescribes the application of a foreign law (e.g. for the inheritance of movable property), the Bulgarian court applies the substantive foreign law. However, if the prescribed foreign law provides for the application of the principle of lex rei sitae, the Bulgarian court applies Bulgarian law.
- Married couples, regardless of the nationality of the spouses, are deemed to own all assets acquired during the marriage jointly, regardless of whose name appears on the deeds/bank accounts. Such joint possession is valid so long as the marriage exists.
- If there are no successors determined by the applicable law, any property situated in Bulgaria is inherited by the Bulgarian state or municipality.
Bulgarian courts are competent to resolve inheritance cases if:
- The deceased at the time of death, had his/her usual residence in Bulgaria, or was a Bulgarian citizen.
- All cases where part of the deceased´s estate is situated in Bulgaria, regardless of his/her residence or citizenship.
Inheritance claims should be filed with the court in the region where the deceased had his/her last usual residence. If a foreign court makes a decision subject to execution in Bulgaria, then that decision is admitted for execution by the competent Bulgarian court, the Sofia City Court.
An average inheritance case usually takes between 2 and 3 years.
Bulgarian inheritance law includes the principle of "forced heirship".
A reserved portion is applicable to every inherited property and to every person subject to the inheritance law, including inheritance by will. Pursuant to the principle of the reserved portion, the deceased cannot dispose of, by will or gift, the respective part of the inherited property reserved by law to the descendants (children and grandchildren), and to the parents and spouse. There is no legal way for a foreigner to avoid the "forced heirship" rules imposed by Bulgarian law e.g. by registering the ownership of property situated in Bulgaria with an offshore company.
Any part of an estate outside the reserved portion may be freely disposed of by will or gift.
The Inheritance Act defines the exact proportions of the reserved portion depending on the capacities and numbers of the heirs, as follows:
- If the deceased is not married, the reserved portion of the descendants (including adopted children) is as follows: one descendant - 1/2; two or more descendants - 2/3;
- The reserved portion of the parent(s) is 1/3;
- The reserved portion of a surviving spouse, where inheriting without parents is 1/2, and 1/3, where inheriting along with the parents;
- A surviving spouse (considered already to own 50% of the estate) is entitled to a portion of the estate of the deceased in equal proportion to that of any surviving children; the disposable part of the property is formed as follows: with spouse and one child - 1/3; with spouse and two children - 1/4; with spouse and three or more children - 1/6.
In case of intestate succession (i.e. where no will) the estate is dealt with under the provisions of inheritance by law as follows:
- If the deceased left only descendants, they inherit the estate in equal proportion;
- In the absence of descendants and spouse, the parent(s) inherit the estate in equal proportion;
- If the deceased left only ascendants (i.e. grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.) the first in range inherit equally;
- If the deceased left only siblings, they inherit in equal proportion;
- If the deceased left only siblings and ascendants, the siblings inherit 2/3 and the ascendants 1/3;
- If none of the above are left, the collateral relatives inherit;
- The surviving spouse inherits the entire property if he/she is the only heir, or inherits along with every of the above, as follows: equally with the descendants; where inheriting along with parents or with siblings or their descendants - 1/2 if married to the deceased at least 10 years, or 2/3 if married to the deceased more than 10 years; ; where inheriting along with parents and with siblings or their descendants - 1/3 if married to the deceased at least 10 years, or 1/2 if married to the deceased more than 10 years.
Bulgarian Inheritance Law provides for some additional rights of certain groups of heirs, i.e. those who have lived with and taken care for the deceased, or who have contributed to the increase of the inherited property.
A will can be used to include non-heirs or to increase the portions of particular heirs.
Any person of sound mind who is 18 years of age or older can make a will and appoint in advance the heirs to the disposable portion of his/her estate after death. The residue of the estate, i.e., that portion outside the reserved portion, can be freely willed.
A Notary Certified Will is made personally in the presence of a Notary Public. Two witnesses are required to authenticate the will, neither of whom may be a beneficiary.
Recent amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria (2005) and to the Ownership Act (2007) with respect to the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union permit foreigners to acquire title to land in Bulgaria through ex lege (by virtue of law) inheritance; however no case law has been established yet. For most cases (different from ex lege inheritance) it may be more favourable for foreigners who own land in Bulgaria not to make a will.
The owner may freely dispose of property prior to his death, except the reserved portion.
Heirs with a reserved portion may challenge in court any donations or gifts made during the lifetime of the deceased or challenge a will which leads to a decrease in their reserved portion. Challenges must be made within 5 years of the death of the deceased. There is no legal way to avoid such challenges if the reserved portion has been affected.
Property rights must be legally transferred.
Under Bulgarian law the transfer of property rights, as well as the establishment of limited rights in rem in respect of real estate is done by way of a formal agreement (generally referred to as a "Notary Deed"), which is executed by the parties and a duly qualified Notary Public authorised to act within the region of location of the property. Real estate transactions involving the state or a municipality on the side of the grantor, however, are effected by simple written agreements, i.e., the participation of a Notary Public is not required.
Title to real estate may also be transferred through a judge ruling as part of the enforcement procedure against a debtor´s property. Such a ruling is a result of a foreclosure sale against a defaulting debtor. In such cases, following the public sale of property, the foreclosure judge conducting the procedure issues rulings transferring title to the publicly sold real estate.
Regardless of the way they are documented (i.e., Notary Deed, simple written agreement, ruling), transfers of ownership or limited rights in respect of real property are subject to registration with the relevant Real Estate Registry. Title to property is evidenced and takes effect in respect of third parties on the grounds of such registration. The legal owner of the property is considered to be the person registered in the Real Estate Registry.
Bulgarian law recognizes the concept of community property.
Most property acquired during a marriage is equally owned by each spouse. Bulgarian law does not recognise pre-nuptial agreements and does not allow the property ownership of a spouse to remain separate after the marriage, except for gifts and inheritance.
The institution of the community property falls in the sphere of the family relations and therefore is regulated by the law of the state of the spouses´ nationality. If the spouses are of different nationalities the applicable law is the law of the state of their usual residence. However, the spouses may choose another law to be applied to their community property. If the chosen law is Bulgarian, and one spouse acquires property in Bulgaria during the marriage, then both spouses become joint owners of this property.
Minors who inherit property require the appointment of a guardian.
Anyone who inherits by virtue of the law may become the owner of property. Property may be inherited by a child or children not of legal age or others not legally adult.
Pursuant to Bulgarian law under-age children (up to 14 years), as well as minors (between 14 and 18 years) encounter no restrictions on inheriting any kind of property. However, Bulgarian law requires a guardianship to be established with respect to the management of the property of an under age child or a minor with no parents. Guardians are appointed by the mayor of the municipality of the child´s domicile.
Inheritors may choose to accept or to deny acquisition of inherited property.
Both the acceptance and the denial are subject to a court procedure and to registration in a specific book. Any factual or legal action performed by an inheritor, which undoubtedly shows on his intention to accept the inherited property, shall be considered as acceptance of the inherited property.
Every inherited property in Bulgaria is subject to inheritance taxation.
Within 6 months of the death of the deceased or the acknowledgement of his/her death, a tax declaration should be submitted to the municipality of the deceased´s last domicile, or, if the last domicile was abroad, to the municipality where most of the inherited property in Bulgaria is located. The surviving spouse, as well as the descendents (i.e. children, grandchildren, etc.) are not subject to Inheritance Tax.
The contents of this article shall not be considered to be a legal opinion or legal advice. "Stoeva, Kuyumdjieva and Vitliemov" Law Firm shall not be liable in case any specific actions have been performed on the grounds of the content of the present article. For the purpose of undertaking any actions, precise legal advice should be obtained.