Inheritance law

Inheritance law [спадкове право; spadkove pravo]. A division of civil law dealing with the transfer of possessions of deceased individuals to their heirs. During the Kyivan Rus’ period, inheritance was strictly determined by family ties, and only family members could be heirs. The person leaving an inheritance could have some influence over how it was to be divided, but could not assign it to non-family members. If an individual left no offspring, the inheritance went to the principality, by default. The form of a will (see Dukhivnytsia) was usually oral, delivered in the presence of family members. The detailed laws of inheritance encoded in the Ruskaia Pravda distinguished between the rights of inheritance of smerds (slaves or commoners) and boyars (nobles or barons), and outlined the rights of the widow.

Under the Lithuanian Statute, inheritance continued to be determined by family ties. However, both fluid and static assets acquired during a lifetime could be assigned to non-family members. Some classes of individuals were forbidden to compose wills, and only legally empowered individuals could receive inherited goods or assets. There were also restrictions imposed on inheritances by women, servants, and some classes of peasantry.

The reforms brought about during the Cossack period were later modified by the Code of Laws of 1743, which allowed for inheritance by illegitimate offspring of assets acquired during the bequeather’s lifetime.

After the abolition of the Hetman state, Russian authorities in 1835 established the primacy of the Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii, with some adjustments in the Poltava gubernia and Chernihiv gubernia to ensure congruence with earlier civil law. This system of laws was based on sequential order of inheritance of offspring, widow, parents, followed by brothers and sisters. In Galicia under Austria and then Poland the Austrian civil code of 1811 was enforced. Under this code, the bequeather was empowered to distribute assets to mainly one individual or to many, as long as the bequeather respected the rights of all legally entitled members of the family. This law ensured universality of distribution by automatically legally entitling certain members of the family to certain portions of the estate, irrespective of the will of the bequeather or primary heir.

During the years of Ukraine’s struggle for independence (1917–20), previous laws (Russian and Austrian) concerning inheritance remained in force. After the October Revolution of 1917 all such laws were annulled by decree of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR on 3 November 1919. However, agriculturally based assets not exceeding 10,000 rubles could remain as family possessions and were not confiscated by the state. This system continued through the period of the New Economic Policy in various modified forms.

Under the Civil Code of the Ukrainian SSR of 16 December 1922, rights of inheritance were limited to direct descendants (children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren), the widow, relatives who were unable to work, and the impoverished who were dependants of the deceased one year prior to his death. The inheritance was to be divided equally among all beneficiaries named above. The testator had the right to rearrange the distribution of assets in a will, or to specifically exclude a particular individual, but not to assign them to legally unentitled persons.

In 1928 all offspring 18 years of age or under were entitled to three-fourths of the assets of the deceased. An individual had the right to leave his possessions to the state, to the Communist Party, and to community (but not religious) organizations. In 1945 the circle of inheritors was expanded to include siblings.

The legislation operative in the Ukrainian SSR in matters of inheritance after 1963 consisted of the general foundations for civil law of the USSR and the Civil Code of the Ukrainian SSR, enacted on 18 July 1963 (chapter VII, articles 524–564). The first rank of inheritors legally entitled to equal parts of the inheritance were children, spouses, and parents of the deceased. Grandchildren could be inheritors if the parents of the deceased were not alive. In the event of the absence of inheritors of the first rank, siblings were entitled to equal portions, as were the grandparents. Every citizen was entitled to leave his assets divided among any number of individuals. The compulsory portion of assets to be given to children who had not reached the age of majority or were not able to work (this included adopted children), spouse, parents, and dependants was two-thirds. In the event of the lack of these primary inheritors, all assets became the property of the state. Inheritors also became responsible for debts incurred by the testator. In the event of the death of a member of a collective farm, the assets passed to the legally defined inheritors. Specific regulations applied to division of assets deposited in various state savings treasuries and funds. Inheritance fees in the Ukrainian SSR were fixed at 10 percent of the value of the inherited assets.

If the testator and the inheritors lived in different countries, then inheritance was divided according to the laws of the country of residence of the deceased. Purportedly, the inherited assets passed untouched to the inheritors in the USSR or vice versa. According to this principle of international private law, the Soviet legal organs assiduously searched for possible inheritances coming to their citizens and, to this end, established broad legal contacts with the countries of destination of emigrants from the Soviet Union.

Antymonov, Boris; Grave, Konstantin. Sovetskoe nasledstvennoe pravo (Moscow 1955)
Hordon, Mykhailo. Radians'ke tsyvil'ne pravo (Kharkiv 1966)
———. Nasledovanie po zakonu i po zaveshchaniiu (Moscow 1967)
Iakymenko, Oleksandr; Baru, Myron; Hordon, Mykhailo (eds). Tsyvil'nyi kodeks Ukraïns'koï RSR, Naukovo-praktychnyi komentarii (Kyiv 1971)
Nikitiuk, Petr. Nasledstvennoe pravo i nasledstvennyi protsess (Kishinev 1973)

Jurij Fedynskyj

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1988).]

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