1. Which laws govern and regulate Wills and Succession in Cyprus?
Wills and Succession law in Cyprus is governed by both domestic and EU law. In regards to Cypriot statute law, the most significant enactments are:
• The Wills and Succession Law, Cap. 195- Contains the provisions that regulate wills and also regulates intestacy.
• The Administration of Estates Law, Cap. 189- Regulates the process in respect to the execution of wills and the administration of estates of deceased persons.
• The Probates (Re-Sealing) Law, Cap. 192- Governs the process of re-sealing the grant of probate or letters of administration from commonwealth countries.
Moreover, EU law is relevant and specifically Regulation (EU) 650/2012 which allows EU citizens to choose the law of the country of their nationality as the governing law of their will.
2. Is it compulsory to make a will? What happens if someone passes away without having a will?
It is not obligatory to have a will. If someone passes away without having left a will, his/her property will be distributed on the basis of the laws of succession. For example, if the deceased is survived by a spouse and two children, his/her property will be divided into three equal shares.
3. What are the requirements for a will to be deemed valid? Is a will valid if it is had not been filed to Court before the death of the person in question?
It is not compulsory that a will must be filed to Court. It is common for wills to be kept at a lawyer’s office or elsewhere. However, it is advisable that a will is filed to Court as to ensure it does not get lost. For a will to be valid the following must apply:
a) The will must be signed by the testator or a person authorised by him/her in the testator’s presence and under his/her directions.
b) The testator must sign in the presence of at least two witnesses who will also sign the will in the presence of each other and in the presence of the testator.
c) Each page of the will must be signed or initialled by the testator (or his representative) and the witnesses.
4. Can a will be revoked?
Yes. A will can be revoked by another will. Further, the testator can revoke a will by destroying it or another person can destroy it under the instructions and in the presence of the testator. Furthermore, a will is deemed to be revoked by the marriage of the testator after the execution of the will and by the birth of a child of the testator after the execution of the will provided that the testator had no children at the time of executing the will.
5. Are there any restrictions in regards to the terms of a will?
There are restrictions in regards to the way property can be disposed through a will. Cyprus has what we refer to as a forced heirship regime which means that certain relatives such as a spouse or children cannot be excluded from an inheritance and they have a right to a fixed minimum percentage of the estate.
6. What are ‘disposable portion’ and ‘statutory portion’?
The disposable portion is the part of the estate that the testator can dispose of as he/she wishes through his/her will. The statutory portion is reserved for the spouse, children and grandchildren and must be distributed according to the provisions of the Wills and Succession Law/Cap. 195.
7. How is the disposable portion calculated?
• Where a person dies leaving spouse and a child, or spouse and descendant of a child, or no spouse but a child or descendant of a child, the disposable portion must not exceed one-fourth of the net value of the estate.
• When a person dies leaving spouse or father or mother but no child or descendant of a child, the disposable portion shall not exceed one-half of the net value of the estate.
• When a person dies leaving neither a spouse, nor a child, nor a descendant of a child, nor a father, nor a mother, he/she is free to dispose as he/she wishes all of the estate.
8. Is a will void if it disposes of more than the disposable portion?
No. The will is not void but the disposition will be reduced in order to be limited to the disposable portion.
9. Does the forced heirship regime apply to everyone?
Yes it does apply to everyone who dies domiciled in Cyprus irrespective of nationality. However, Regulation (EU) 650/2012 allows EU citizens to choose the law of their country of nationality as the law applicable to their estate. Such a choice must be expressed in the will of the testator.
10. How is an estate distributed if the deceased left no will?
When a person dies intestate, his/her property will be distributed on the basis of the rules of intestacy. There are four different classes of kindred who are entitled to inherit an intestate person:
• First class: Legitimate children of the deceased and descendants of any of the deceased’s children who died during his/her lifetime;
• Second class: Any parent or sibling of the deceased;
• Third class: The closest in degree of kindred living ancestors of the deceased. Such as a grandparent;
• Fourth class: The nearest relatives of the deceased alive at the time of his/her death up to the sixth degree of kindred (i.e. cousin and siblings of grandparents).
The portion of the spouse is calculated first and then the rest of the estate will be distributed to the relatives of the deceased depending on the degree of kindred. Members of a class exclude the members of the next class. The share of the surviving spouse is as follows:
a) Where the deceased left a child or a descendant of a child, the spouse’s share is equal to the share of each child. For example, if the descendant was survived by a spouse and 2 children, the net estate (after the debts of the estate have been paid) will be divided in three equal shares.
b) Where the deceased left no child or descendant of a child but has an ancestor or descendant of an ancestor within the third degree of kindred, the spouse is allowed 50% of the net estate.
c) Where the deceased has left a relative within the fourth degree of kindred, the spouse is entitled to 75% of the net estate.
d) Where the deceased left no relative within the four degrees of kindred the spouse is entitled to the entire net estate.
11. Can a will be challenged in Court?
Yes, a will can be challenged on the basis of various possible reasons such as an allegation that the testator lacked mental capacity or that he signed the will as a result of undue influence.
12. What is the procedure to administer the estate of a deceased person?
If the deceased person has left a will, then the executor of the will applies for a grant of probate. If there is no will, then a close relative of the deceased such as a spouse or a child can apply for the letters of administration. It is common for a lawyer to apply for the letters of administration through the use of a power of attorney from a close relative of the deceased. The intended administrator has to file to Court together with the application a number of documents such as a death certificate, a certificate of heirs and other documents. When the letters of administration have been obtained, the intended administrator must collect all information in regards to the assets and liabilities of the estate and file statements to Court declaring these assets and debts of the deceased and to inform the Court about the course of the administration procedure.
Further, the administrator must pay any taxes due to the authorities, such as income tax or tax for immovable property and obtain discharge from the tax authorities. After obtaining discharge from the tax authorities the administrator can distribute the estate to the beneficiaries and file to Court final accounts and close the administration.
13. Is there any inheritance tax in Cyprus?
There is no inheritance tax for people who passed away after year 2000 when inheritance tax was abolished. But there is inheritance tax for properties of person who passed away before 2000.
14. Is it possible for someone to renounce their inheritance?
Yes. An heir can renounce his/her inheritance by making a declaration to this effect and file the declaration within 3 months from the date when he/she found out about the death of the deceased and the fact that he/she is an heir of the deceased.
15. Is a will made in a foreign country valid in Cyprus?
Yes, provided that the will was executed following the formalities required by Cyprus law. Further, a will can be accepted by Court if it has been executed according to the the conditions of the Hague Convention.
16. Can letters of administration or grant of probate from a Commonwealth country be recognised in Cyprus?
Yes. The Probates (Re-Sealing) Law, Cap. 192 provides for the procedure of re-sealing the grant of probate or letters of administration from commonwealth countries. These provisions are applicable to people who passed away in the UK or any Commonwealth country and had assets in Cyprus at the time of death. Grant of probate and letters of administration issued by Courts in any commonwealth country can be re-sealed in Cyprus and an administrator is appointed to administer the property of the deceased in Cyprus.
17. What does ‘domicile’ mean?
‘Domicile’ is a term often used in succession matters when seeking to establish which law is applicable to the estate of a deceased person. Domicile is the status of being a permanent resident in a specific jurisdiction.
18. Is Cyprus succession law applicable to immovable property of a foreign national located in Cyprus?
Cyprus law regulates any immovable property found in Cyprus irrespective of the nationality or country of residence of the deceased.
19. Is Cyprus succession law applicable to immovable property abroad of a person who has Cyprus domicile status?
No. Cyprus law does not regulate and is not applicable to any immovable property abroad even when the deceased person in question had a Cypriot domicile.
20. Is Cyprus succession law regulating movable property of a foreign national located in Cyprus?
Movable property such as money, cars, etc are governed by the laws of the domicile of the deceased at the time of death. Thus, if the deceased had a foreign domicile, the laws of his/her country will regulate his movable property in Cyprus. Likewise, a person who passed away having a Cyprus domicile, his movable assets abroad will be governed by Cyprus law.