In Cyprus, the succession of the estate of a deceased is governed, inter alia, by the provisions of the Wills and Succession Law (Cap. 195) and of the Administration of Deceased's Estate Law (Cap. 189).
1. APPLICATION FIELD – THE MEANING OF "DOMICILE"
In order for Cypriot Laws to be enforced and govern the issues of the succession of a deceased, he should have, at the date of his death, his domicile in the Republic of Cyprus. The term "domicile" neither does it constitute a synonym of home or residence of the deceased nor does it match with the place of death or the nationality of the deceased. It is impossible to give a precise definition of the meaning "domicile" since it consists of different factors that are taken into account. In any case, what is necessary to be proven, is the element of permanency of domicile, namely the willingly intention of a person to settle his domicile and the domicile of his family in one place, without any specific or temporary purpose but with future duration. Generally, every person has the domicile of his origin until he acquires, by virtue of his action, the domicile of his choice. Lastly, the Cypriot Laws govern the succession of immovable property suited in the Republic of Cyprus, even for persons not having their domicile in Cyprus. In any case, where there is any doubt regarding the domicile of a deceased and the law governing his succession, the Court may resolve such issue through a detailed examination of the background of the deceased.
2. METHODS OF SUCCESSION
The estate of a deceased may be disposed and/or distributed with 2 methods:
- By virtue of a Will – the right of a person to dispose his estate in accordance with the provisions of his Will is not absolute and is limited to the "disposable part", as explained below.
- Intestate – a person, who dies without leaving a will, dies intestate and his estate may be distributed through an administration process to his relatives based on the degree of their relationship. Through an administration procedure will be distributed also the part of the estate of a deceased who has executed a legally valid but which is not included in it and the part of the deceased's estate which falls under the forced heirship regime, as explained below.
3. DRAWING UP A LEGALLY VALID WILL
Any person with a sound mind and over 18 years old can draw up a valid Will, in accordance with the formalities included in the Wills and Succession Law (Cap. 195), and dispose of part or all of the disposable part of his estate. A valid Will must:
Be in writing and executed with a specified way;
- Be signed at the end by the testator or a testator's representative in the presence of the testator;
- Be signed in the presence of 2 or more witnesses that are present simultaneously. The witnesses confirm and sign the Will in the presence of each other and of the testator. The witnesses must be persons over 18 years old, have a sound mind and sign in their name. A legacy to a Will that is disposed in favor of a witness to the Will is void.
- If the Will consists of more than one paper, then each paper must be signed by the executor or his representative and by the witnesses.
The strict compliance with the formalities, as well as the careful drafting of a Will, are of vital for its validity. No legacy is valid unless it expresses a specified intention.
Furthermore, the validity of a Will or part of it may be disputed if it was executed by virtue of duress, fraud or undue influence.
4. FORCED HEIRSHIP REGIME
The Cypriot legislative framework does not allow to a testator to dispose freely his estate, as he wishes, in accordance with his Will. The Law provides of a safeguard to the succession rights of close relatives, namely spouse, children or grandchildren or parent, for whom a great part of the estate of the deceased is guaranteed under the regime of forced heirship. A Will that ignores the right of a legal heir is not void but the disposable part of the Will will be limited accordingly to preserve the rights of the legal heirs. In other words, if the testator of a valid Will dies leaving a spouse and two children, excluding one of his children from his Will, only ¼ of the net value of the estate can be disposed based on the Will. Consequently, the ¾ of the deceased's estate constitutes the estate falling under the forced heirship regime, which will be disposed by 1/3 proportion to the wife and to the two children. Therefore, although the child of the testator is excluded from his Will, he will receive a part of the estate as a legal heir of the deceased.
Conclusively, a careful examination of the legislative framework governing the issues of inheritance and succession is required while the appropriate actions should be taken before the death of a person, in order to avoid either the drawing up of a void will or the disposition of his estate in accordance with the forced heirship regime, if this is not his wish. Other alternative ways by virtue of which a person may grand estate for the benefit of another specified person are either (a) through the creation of a Trust Instrument, which is not governed by the relevant inheritance and succession Laws or (b) in case of an immovable property, by transferring its legal title and registering a covenant for his benefit.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.