Reform looms over Norwegian law that currently determines how families in Norway can divvy up the basics of their fortunes, and which currently sets minimum amounts for how much children must receive. A state commission that’s been reviewing Norwegian inheritance law is proposing that spouses and long-term partners should now be entitled to a bigger share.
Complicated family structures in Norway, along with a tradition of strong state regulation, led to the laws that currently guide how estates are settled after the death of a father or mother. Inheritance battles still occur regularly, but under current law, for example, the children of the deceased are entitled to three-fourths of his or her estate while the spouse only receives one-fourth. Surviving spouses can only continue to live in the residence they shared with the deceased and carry on as before if the children of the deceased agree.
Children are also guaranteed at least up to NOK 1 million (USD 163,000) of their share of the deceased’s estate (called pliktarv in Norwegian, a form of obligatory inheritance). Norwegians are prevented from totally disinheriting a wayward child, for example, but can prevent a child from receiving more than NOK 1 million if the estate is larger and they write a will in advance.
Many Norwegians, however, die without having written a will (called a testament in Norwegian), believing the state ultimately controls how their estate will be divided. That may also change, if the reforms are approved by parliament and Norwegians gain more control over their worldly goods.
Strengthening partners’ rights
The proposed reforms seem mainly aimed at strengthening the rights of live-in partners, married or not. Those living together for at least five years before one of them dies, and those with children together, stand to receive the same inheritance rights as married couples with children.
Married couples and those living together who have no children will also be able to automatically inherit each other in full, preventing other relatives of the deceased from stepping in ahead of them in the inheritance line. At present, partners are subject to sharing inheritance with the parents of the deceased, if they’re still alive, and even with the deceased’s parents’ heirs.
Surviving spouses are also currently restricted regarding how much they can spend or give away as gifts, for example, if they continue to live in a home/estate that hasn’t been distributed among the children of the deceased. Live-in partners (called a samboer in Norway) aren’t currently entitled to anything beyond what they already own in the estate, in which their common residence is often the most valuable asset. Even in cases where the couple has lived together for many years, a common situation in Norway, the children of the deceased can demand that the residence be sold and its proceeds distributed, effectively requiring the surviving partner to seek new lodgings.
Now all that may change, with a commission proposing that spouses and live-in partners be entitled to automatically inherit much more than they do now and have stronger rights over the children and other relatives of the deceased. The commission, led by law professor and judge Torstein Frantzen, has been reviewing Norwegian inheritance laws since being charged with the task by former Justice Minster Knut Storberget of the Labour Party in 2011. Commission members clearly see a need for strengthening partners’ rights.
“We have much more complicated lives these days,” agrees lawyer Dag Erlandsen, who specializes in inheritance law. He told newspaper Aftenposten that various marriages, divorces, partnerships and children with various partners made it “natural” to streamline laws and make it easier for a surviving spouse or partner at the time of death to carry on.
Erlandsen acknowledged that in a “normal” estate worth NOK 3 million in Norway, children of the deceased can stand to collectively “lose” NOK 500,000, if their parent was living with a partner, married or not. That’s likely to set off debate over the proposed reforms, which now have been put out to hearing. Norway’s new Conservatives-led government must then decide whether to put the reform proposals before the Parliament. Until then, the current rules will still apply.