Apparently, under Polish law you inherit debt, however, you can choose not to accept the inheritance.

"Polish inheritance law follows the rule of general succession which means that heirs are liable for the debts of the estate."

A family lives in the UK. The husband is British and wife is Polish-born but has lived in the UK since she was 2 years old and only holds a British Passport and is a British citizen. The wife’s parent are also Polish born and live in the UK and are British citizens.

The wife’s cousin recently passed away with circa £50k in debt and no assets. He's Polish and lived in Poland.

When a family member rejects an inheritance, it is then automatically passed to the next family member in this order.

  • his spouse and children are the first in line, followed by
  • grandchildren, followed by
  • great grandchildren, followed by
  • parents, followed by
  • siblings etc

All family members based in Poland will be rejecting the inheritance. They can do this for a sum of circa 50 zloty but you need a Polish passport and you need to be in Poland to do this via an appointment with the consulate.

What this means is that the wife and her mother will need to reject the inheritance for the same reasons. But to do this in the UK without a Polish passport would require a notary service which are likely to cost upwards of £420 per person.

So my question is, is this process really required to reject the inheritance for distant family members based in the UK? Also, how far down the line would this go? Would the wife's children also need to formally reject the inheritance?

Can Polish authorities / bailiffs really chase the family for money oversees? And if not, is this a problem for the family if they visit Poland in the future?

  • This post contains serious misunderstandings about how general succession works. I'll post an answer addressing it if I have time.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 17:31
  • Hi, any chance of posting an answer? Keen to understand if this is a genuine problem or not.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 10:44
  • Are you sure it has to be a Polish passport? The .pl website just says "valid passport"
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 20:07

2 Answers 2


Most civil law jurisdictions, including Poland, have a concept called "universal succession."

What this means is that the default rule is that the persons entitled to receive a decedent's property, as established by a notarized will or intestate succession in the absence of a will, collectively receive the property of the decedent subject to the debts of a decedent, with a legal obligation to share the proceeds and obligations between each other as provided by law and the terms of the Will.

But, it is possible, instead, to have the estate of a decedent formally administered. In these cases, the assets and liability of a decedent are formally determined and set off against each other. Successors of the decedent (either under a Will or intestate succession) are not subject to the debt's of the decedent if this is done, and instead, receive only the residuary assets of the estate remaining after the assets of the decedent have been used to pay the decedent's debts. This leaves only assets exempt from claims of creditors by statute (which are few) in the case of an insolvent estate, which is in most cases almost equivalent to giving up one's inheritance entirely.

In the exception case when an estate is formally administered in this fashion, this is normally done either by non-family executors, in cases where it seems sure that the estate will be insolvent, or by an executor chosen by the successors of the decedent or the Will, in cases where a complicated estate of a decedent is probably solvent, but its solvency is uncertain because it is hard to exactly value some assets and some liabilities, or because there is a likelihood that some unknown assets and/or some unknown liabilities exist.

Formal administration of a decedent's estate normally involves a process involving court filings or filings with a notary public that must be followed to affirmative elect to have a decedents estate formally administered. If this process is not followed within the specified time frame, the estate is usually, instead, governed by default process of universal succession.

The nitty gritty details of the process are beyond my knowledge, but that is the basic conceptual outline and baseline of how the process of handling decedent's estate is usually managed in civil law countries from which any country specific laws may deviate or further elaborate.

There is a summary of the law in Poland here. Basically, it provides that an heir's liability can be limited either by refusing the inheritance altogether or accepting it with the liability amounting to the value of the estate (so called "benefit of inventory"). So, in Poland, to get the benefits of formal administration the heirs need to prepare and file an inventory of the estate within six months of the date of death. They also have six months from the date of death to instead disclaim their inheritance and the obligations that come with it.

Under Polish law, the heirs should make declaration on accepting an inheritance or refusing an inheritance within 6 months from the date they became aware of the fact that they are to inherit after the decedent. Where there is no declaration on acceptance or rejection of inheritance within a period of 6 months, this will be considered as the beneficiary accepting the inheritance with the benefit of inventory. That is a good solution as the liability would be limited to the value of the assets of the estate. Therefore, the heir would not have to pay more debts then the inherited value. However, that entails a duty to prepare an inventory list of the estate by the heirs. That is why the refusal of inheritance is also worth considering. . . .

Sometimes it is . . . better to take action and refuse the inheritance instead of passively accepting the inheritance with the benefit of inventory and dealing with unpaid debts which were not yours, even if they do not exceed the estate's value.

The extent to which a debt arising by universal succession would be honored as a foreign judgment after established in the country where the decedent is domiciled at death is a question that honestly doesn't come up very much.

I don't know what preconditions a U.K. court would place on converting that debt to a U.K. money judgment.

I suspect that a U.S. court would be quite skeptical of recognizing a foreign judgment arising by universal succession because it would probably not meet the usual requirements of U.S. law for recognition of judgments, such as service of process on the resident judgment debtor, the existing of personal jurisdiction in personam over the resident judgment debtor in the court where the judgment was entered, and the lack of an adequate opportunity to litigate the obligation on the merits that was known to the resident judgment debtor.

But, I also wouldn't count on these defenses if I were a U.S. person and would instead seek to hire counsel in Poland to insist that the decedent's estate by having an inventory of the estate prepared and filed in a timely fashion, or by disclaiming the inheritance, based upon an evaluation of the benefits, risks, and administrative costs involved, and thus limiting the U.S. person's liability, unless the decedent's estate was solvent beyond any reasonable doubt.

In the U.S., in contrast, heirs or successors of a decedent are never subject to the debts of a decedent except to the extent the obligation arises from their own mismanagement of the administration of the estate, and typically only receive inheritances once all liabilities of the decedent have been adjudicated and paid out of the decedent's assets, making a U.S. probate proceeding, unlike a civil law universal successor proceeding, an in rem proceeding that only adjudicates rights to a specific collection of property and does not create new personal obligations for heirs that can be enforced with money judgments against those heirs.


Can Polish authorities / bailiffs really chase us for money oversees?

No, they have no legal authority in the UK.

What they can do is get a judgement against you in a Polish court, bring that to an English, Scottish or Northern Ireland court (depending where you live) who will issue a local judgement. Now UK officers can enforce it.

And if not, is this a problem if we visit Poland in the future?

Potentially. It’s more likely to be a problem if the debt is owed to the government than a private individual.

  • 2
    I think this misses the key point of the question, which is how far down the inheritance law does OP need to go to clear this issue. Your answer just considers whether OP can ignore the whole thing because he is in the UK and the inheritance is in Poland.
    – quarague
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 13:30

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