More than 200 deceased people’s legacies became state property in 2008
Cousins often shocked to discover they have no right of inheritance
Let's take the case of dear cousin Karl. He died suddenly. Karl had farmed the old family farm by himself, and his cousins - his only surviving relatives at the time of his sad demise - used to go and visit him every Christmas and in the summer holidays.
Not any more they won't. Karl died without leaving a will, even though the subject often came up. His land and forests will go to the state. Under Finnish law, cousins have no right of inheritance.
The example is fictitious, but it could be for real.
Annually a total of around 500 people die in Finland without any heirs. Some 60 % of them have left a will, by which they determine the disposition of their property after death.
The legacies of the remaining 40 % are to be passed to the State, and it is the State Treasury’s duty to authorise attorneys to administrate the estate. In 2008, the number of such cases was 223.
The State Treasury has no statistics relating to who those deceased persons are who did not leave a will.
However, the number of farmers running a family farm has gradually declined, and today most persons who have died intestate are resident in the Greater Helsinki area, where most Finns live.
The property often consists of the dead person’s home. For several decades, the custom was that the residences that had become state property in this fashion were turned into job-related homes for police officers. Today, such residences are normally sold.
Some deceased persons have not left any inheritance.
Really large properties are seldom heard of at the State Treasury, but Senior Lawyer Marjukka Vallioniemi remembers a certain Beatrice Granberg who died in 2000 and had a significant collection of artworks. All her paintings and sculptures have later been placed in various art museums.
In a case of legacies of more than EUR 750,000, the Government has to make a decision on whether the assets are to be retained by the State or transferred further to some other parties.
Vallioniemi is surprised at the fact that the number of those deceased persons who have left a will has remained the same for at least a decade, as far as the State Treasury knows.
One would have imagined that people who do not have heirs would increasingly often make a will, as proper guidance is easy to get, she adds.
On the other hand, persons who were close to the deceased can apply to the State Treasury for the assets or at least part of them.
Most frequently some assets are passed to a cohabiting spouse, a foster-child, or somebody elso who has been taking care of the deceased.
The practical affairs of the estate are administered by the attorneys authorised by the State Treasury.
Frequently possessions with no other than a sentimental value may be given to cousins and other relatives.
Typically, that part of a given property which has not been retained by the State is transferred to the decesed person’s home municipality, which is to assign a specific target for the inherited assets. Frequently the assets are used for aged care purposes.
Eligible heirs include all relatives who are closer than cousins, for example the spouse and the registered spouse, as well as the so-called secondary heirs of the deceased. Even aunts and uncles can be eligible heirs.
The rights of cousins and more remote relatives to inherit was abolished in Finland in 1966, because it was thought that the legacies would be split into too small parts.
This argument is no longer valid, as the average number of children has declined, which means that even the number of cousins has decreased, says professor in civil law Urpo Kangas from the University of Helsinki.
The restoration of a cousin’s right to inherit should be seriously considered, Kangas suggests.
The sums involved are not that small: last year the estates of persons who died intestate and without heirs totalled in the region of EUR 20 million.
Municipalities received the lion's share, around 11 million euros, while private persons collected just under 3 million, and the State benefited to the tune of EUR 5.3 million.