Atlas

Estonia

Estonian family and sucession law recognise two forms of couples' relationship:

  • MARRIAGE between a man and a woman,

  • REGISTERED PARTNERSHIP CONTRACT between heterosexual or same-sex couple.

The first category is regulated under the Family Act, while the second is regulated by the Registered Partnership Act.

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DISCRIMINATORY RULES

Same-sex marriages are not allowed in Estonia. Registered partners are not entitled to inherit. De facto partners have no rights under the family and succession law.

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Links to applicable regulations

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MARRIAGE 

  • Future spouses can choose among three applicable matrimonial property regimes: (1) community of property, (2) community of accrued gains or (3) separate property. If the spouses do not make a choice, the community of property applies as a default regime.

Under the community of property regime assets and other patrimonial rights of the spouses acquired during the marriage become their joint ownership. Nonetheless, each spouse also has its separate property, which includes: personal belongings of the spouse, assets which were owned by the spouse before the marriage or assets acquired by the spouse during the marriage by disposal without consideration, i.e. as a gift or by succession and assets which the spouse acquires on the basis of a right belonging to his or her separate property or as compensation for the destruction of, damage to or seizure of assets included in his or her separate property, or on the basis of a transaction entered into with regard to his or her separate property.

In case of community of property regime, spouses can request the division of joint property after the termination of marriage. Spouses, as joint owners, are entitled to receive half of the value of the property in case of division. The inequalities arising from different financial contributions of the spouses can be rectified with compensatory monetary claims. Joint property is divided according to the mutual agreement of the spouses. When they do not reach an agreement, it can be divided in court in proceedings on action, choosing between the methods provided for the termination of common ownership. If marriage terminates upon the death of one spouse, the share of the deceased spouse on joint property forms part of his or her estate. Joint property is not divided in separate proceedings, but together with the division of the estate of the deceased spouse, according to the provisions of the Law of Succession Act.

Under the community of accrued gains regime, the property acquired by one spouse before or during marriage remains the property of that spouse. In case of termination of marriage, there can be a monetary claim against the other spouse to set-off value of the assets acquired during marriage (during the applicability of the rules of community of accrued gains). Three categories of assets can be differentiated: (1) fixed assets (mainly comprising of the assets that spouse acquired before marriage or before spouses chose the community of accrued gains, and assets acquired during the regime due to succession or as a gift), (2) total assets (the sum of usual value of things belonging to a spouse and his/her monetarily appraisable rights and obligations at the time of termination of the proprietary relationship expressed in money) and (3) acquired assets (assets by which the total assets exceed fixed assets). If the acquired assets of one spouse are greater than the acquired assets of the other spouse, one half of the difference between the values of the acquired assets shall belong to the spouse who received the smaller amount of acquired assets on the basis of a financial claim for set-off. The purpose of the monetary claim is to put spouses in the same financial position as they would be in, if they had earned the same amount during the regime of community of accrued gains. If marriage terminates upon the death of one spouse, the claim for set-off goes over to the heirs of the deceased spouse. A claim for set-off may be bequeathed and assigned after the matrimonial property regime has ended.

In case of separate property regime, there is no need to divide property as the property belongs to the spouse who acquired it, unless the spouses acquired something as co-owners. If spouses are co-owners due to a contract, common property can be divided according to the agreement of co-owners. If the disagree then court can divide the common property. Other than having claims arising from some other legal relation than marriage, or arising from general regulation applicable for all matrimonial property regimes, spouses are treated from financial perspective as persons that have not been married.

The Family Act permits spouses to conclude matrimonial property contract in notarially authenticated form. Such contract may be entered into before or during a marriage, thus the spouses can also alter the matrimonial property regime (but they cannot make former choices void). In an agreement spouses may: terminate a selection made upon marriage or a proprietary relationship valid on the basis of a matrimonial property contract; establish another proprietary relationship prescribed by law; or make alterations in the selected proprietary relationship in the cases prescribed by law. Thus, the spouses can not only choose between the matrimonial property regimes, but also stipulate the terms of their own choice in matrimonial property contract within the limits set by law. For instance, spouses cannot divide community of property during marriage without ending or altering matrimonial property regime.

  • The basis for succession in Estonia are: a succession contract, a will or the law.

In case of intestate succession, relatives and surviving spouse are successors. Relatives of the deceased inherit in three orders: I order (children of the bequeather and their descendants), II order (parents of the bequeather and their descendants), and III order (grandparents of the bequeather and their descendants). Together with the relatives, surviving spouse is entitled to receive, with first order successors, share equal to the share of a child, but not less than ¼; with second order successors ½ of the estate; and if third order successors would inherit, because there are no relatives from the first or second orders, then the surviving spouse is entitled to receive the entire estate.

In case of testate succession, the statutory share gives entitled persons a monetary claim against the successors, if they were excluded from succession or received less than they would have in case of intestate succession. In order to be entitled to a statutory share, the bequeather also needs to have a valid obligation of maintenance towards the person at the time of death. A statutory share is one-half of the value of the share of an estate which a successor would have received in the case of intestate succession if all intestate successors would have accepted the succession. If a person entitled to statutory share has been bequeathed, a share of an estate which is smaller than a statutory share, he or she may claim the balance as a statutory share from the co-successors.

 

REGISTERED PARTNERSHIP CONTRACT

  • In case of registered partnership, the regulation of property regime of the registered partners is similar to the ones of the spouses. Registered partners can choose among the regimes for matrimonial property enumerated in the Family Act. Dependant on the chosen property regime, the same legal consequences arise as in case of marriage: either a claim for division of joint property or monetary claim to set-off the value of acquired assets.

The Registered Partnership Act regulates substantial issues on registered partnerships, but its implementation may be hindered as the implementing acts have not yet been adopted by the parliament. Thus, the registered partnership contract creates rights and obligations between the parties, but the applicability of those rights and duties in relation to third parties might be hindered due to lack of implementing acts.

  • Unlike in case of divorce, the separation of registered partners does not entail possibility to regulate the right to family home or household items, or are entitled to maintenance from the other partner unless they made a stipulation in registered partnership contract to that effect.

  • In case of death of a partner, the other partner is not entitled to inherit.

 

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DE FACTO COHABITATION

  • In case of de facto cohabitation, when the persons have not concluded a registered partnership contract, no legal consequences arise under the family law. Instead, when the prerequisites to apply the rules on partnership contract are fulfilled, the liquidation provisions apply. The case law confirms that it is appropriate to apply liquidation procedure foreseen for partnership contract in case on de facto cohabitation when partners have acquired assets during the cohabitation under specific conditions.

  • In case of death of a partner in a de facto cohabitation, the other partner is not entitled to inherit.

Based on national report provided by Susann Liin