Can the heirs be liable for debts of the deceased if it is more than the amount of their succession?

In principle during succession the rights and obligation of the deceased will be transferred to the heirs. The same applies for Ethiopian legal system. According to article 826(2) of the Ethiopian Civil Code, the rights and duties of the deceased, unless they are closed by the death of the deceased will be passed to the heirs.

However the tricky question is what will happen when the deceased’s obligations are much more than the rights to be inherited. The contradicting matter in here is that if the deceased’s debt is much more than the net inheritance of the heirs, by approving their inheritance, will they be liable for the debt of the deceased? If so, should the heirs pay the debt of the deceased from his personal property?

The above question was entertained first by the High Court of Semen Shewa Zone and also seen by the Oromiya Cassation Bench. Then the matter then reached the Federal Supreme Court on February 24, 2001 in file number 38691, applicant Ato Legesse Biratu and the respondent Ato Dereje Jimma.

The cassation bench by using article 826(2) of the Ethiopian Civil Code decided that the heirs are only responsible for the debt of the deceased on the amount they inherited. So the creditors of the deceased cannot claim the debts of the deceased from the personal property of the heirs.

Thus as per this decision of the Cassation court, during succession though the rights and obligation of the deceased will be transferred to the heirs, the creditors of the deceased can only claim the debts of the deceased from the amount the heirs inherited; not from the personal property of the heirs.

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“Copyright © 2003-2013 Fikadu Asfaw and Associate Law Office

Related notes

Note: This guide provides vital information on Ethiopian law, especially Ethiopian Succession law and practice and is not intended to substitute professional advice given with full knowledge of the specific circumstances of each case and proficiency in the law of Ethiopia. Any pertinent information on the subject can be available from an Ethiopian Lawyer, Ethiopian Family Attorney, Ethiopian Succession Lawyer, Ethiopian Inheritance Lawyer and Ethiopian Contract Attorney.