As one of our presenters at this year’s Expat Financial Affairs, Tim Carnewal of Berquin Notaries took the time to take part in a radio interview to tell us about what a notary does and how they can help you as an expat living in Brussels. He also tells us about the insights he’ll be offering during his session at the event on October 3rd. Listen to the full interview at Radio X
Some people might not be as familiar with what you do because it is not a role that is as common in every country. So specifically in Belgium, when might you need to see or want to see a notary?
You’re absolutely right, our profession was not invented but institutionalised by Napoleon, and the Belgian legislature gives us quite an important role. We assist our clients in civil law matters, real estate transactions, for example, when somebody moves into Belgium and wants to purchase a house in Brussels, Flanders or the Walloon region, he will mandatorily have to pass before a notary who will then pass the transfer deed.
We also intervene in donations, wills and marriage contracts; all contracts which are mandatorily passed before a notary. Aside from that, we also intervene in company law and the constitution of company law, modification of articles of association, restructuring of companies, mergers and demergers. These all must be overseen by a notary. We are there to see that the agreements are in perfect equilibrium and when they are not, we have to inform and advise are clients saying that clause X or Y is not in equilibrium that they should be careful signing that agreement or that contract for instance.
And this must be especially important if you don’t necessarily speak the national languages of Belgium. If you’re an English speaker moving here and buying a house there must be a potential for a lot of misunderstanding and that is where you come in?
Absolutely! Another thing is that the Belgian fiscal authorities are not very flexible from a languages perspective because deeds have to be registered at a register office who can only accept deeds that have been drawn up in Dutch, German or French; our official languages. This of course means that a lot of expat clients who don’t understand those languages, sign contracts in a language that they don’t really understand. Our role is to intervene and explain to our clients exactly what they are signing and hopefully they can trust that what we tell them is correct and that we direct them on the right course
In the example of buying a house, when should you seek advice from a notary? At the very beginning of a process? How long does it take for you guys to sort everything out?
When buying a house, in most cases, 2 steps are taken: we have the signing of the Compromis de Vente which is a private sales agreement and must occur within a maximum period of 4 months, the deal has to be signed in front of a notary. What we like to do is advise our clients from the beginning onwards. This being from when our clients sign the Compromis de Vente. In most cases the notary prepares the Compromis, sometimes a Realtor does it but in most cases a notary does it to ensure that everything is legally correct. Why do we feel that it is important that we intervene from the beginning? Of course, both parties are bound from the day that they sign the Compromis de Vente so if we do not intervene when this is signed and for instance clients contact us just to sign the deal, it may be too late because legislation has not been respected and our client may get in trouble, which is why we like to be by the side of our client from the start of the purchasing process.
Another important element of a notary’s work is on the issue of inheritance:
The European Commission and European Parliament adopted an inheritance regulation in 2012 and the regulation came into force on August 17th 2015. This is a very important regulation as it harmonises everything to do with inheritance law. For example, before the inheritance regulations we had our international private law code in Belgium. Part of this, for example, said that all immovable property was to be controlled by the state in which it was situated. This meant that if an Englishman dies in Belgium, has a bank account in Belgium and a house in Bristol. The bank account would in that case be ruled under Belgian law and the real estate would be ruled by UK law. This can turn out to be quite a complicated situation.
The EU wanted unity on inheritance. As another example, if a Dutchman dies in Belgium and has real estate in Rotterdam and Amsterdam, because of the lack of unity in this case, everything will fall under the hat of Belgian law. Why? Because the inheritance legislation says that the state in which the deceased will decide which law is applicable to his situation.
One small remark: the inheritance laws were adopted by every EU member state with the exception of Denmark, Ireland and the UK. That means that for a Brit dying in Belgium, all rules will be applicable, which is a pity but that’s the way it is.
What will you be discussing during your session at Expat Financial Affairs?
I’ll try to explain further about the EU regulations as there a lot of aspects I have not discussed, I will also point out some fiscal aspects which are important as in Belgium there are certain gift taxes and inheritance taxes, which can be quite a sensitive issue. I will also explain how making some civil choices, or bad civil choices, can sometimes give a nasty fiscal downside so I will be trying to offer some tips and tricks about that!
If people would like to get in touch with you for help with buying house or help with writing there will, how do they get in contact with you to talk about that?
The federation of Belgian notaries has a website you can access: http://www.notaris.be/ or https://www.notaire.be/ (In Dutch and French respectively). On that website you can search for your local commune and the website will show the names of the notaries in your commune.
If you would like to get personalised expert advice on a variety of areas relevant to your big life decisions as an expat in Belgium, please visit our Expat Financial Affairs website and register to join us on the 3rd of October at Vlerick Business School, Brussels. Sign up already now, and we will keep you updated on the event programme as it gets published and help you prepare for your visit in the best way possible.