What is beneficio de inventario?

One of the often-confused concepts in the Spanish law of succession is beneficio de inventario, an expression that has sometimes been translated literally as “benefit of inventory” or “inventory benefit,” renderings that do not clarify its true meaning. An initial key to understanding the term is to note that under Spanish inheritance law heirs (herederos) inherit a título universal, i.e., they do not only receive assets from the decedent’s estate (as does a legatee–legatario), but they also assume all of the deceased’s liabilities.

In that regard, an heir can decide to accept an inheritance unconditionally (aceptación pura y simple), or to accept it a beneficio de inventario. The difference is quite significant. Upon an unconditional acceptance of an inheritance, the heir inherits both the decedent’s assets and liabilities, while his own personal estate immediately becomes commingled with the inherited estate. Thus, if the assets of the inherited estate do not suffice to pay the inherited estate’s debts, an heir who accepts an inheritance unconditionally must use his own assets to satisfy those debts.

In contrast, if the inheritance is accepted a beneficio de inventario, an inventory of the decedent’s assets will be conducted and the heir will have the right to limit his liability to the deceased’s creditors to the amount received in inheritance (facultad del heredero de limitar su responsabilidad ante los acreedores del difunto al montante de la herencia recibida). An inventory is conducted after notifying the creditors and legatees who may be present if they deem it to their advantage (formación del inventario con citación a los acreedores y legatarios para que acudan a presenciarlo si les conviniera). And the decedent’s estate must be kept separate from the heir’s estate until the debts of the decedent’s estate have been paid (necesidad de mantener separados el patrimonio hereditario y el patrimonio del heredero hasta que se hayan satisfecho las deudas de la herencia).

Another related expression is derecho a deliberar, which in this context refers to an heir’s right to deliberate whether or not to accept an inheritance. And, while we’re looking at strange expressions, adir la herencia simply means “to accept the inheritance,” adir being defined as aceptar la herencia tácita o expresamente (DLE). The noun here is adición: adición de la herencia (acceptance of the inheritance).

Source: Carlos Lasarte. Principios de Derecho civil VII: Derecho de sucesiones. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 3ª edición, 2003, pp. 343-355.

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