What happens in Cambodia to a person’s property when they die? Book VIII of the new Civil Code deals with succession and how a person’s estate is administered upon their death.

With some notable exceptions, people are free to leave their property to whomever and however they wish through a will. This is called “testamentary succession”. The code lays out three different ways for a testator to make a will:

  • Will by notarial document: the will is produced with the assistance of a notary and at least two witnesses, following certain formal procedures.
  • Will by privately produced document: the testator writes the will by hand (“holographically” in legal jargon), and signs and dates it.
  • Will by secret document: the will is written by the testator, closed up (such as in an envelope), signs the envelope over the closures, and takes it to a notary who then signs it again.

Be sure to refer to the actual text of the code, as there are very specific formalities that need to be followed, or else the whole document can be declared null and void. A will can specify who will inherit what property and how it will be controlled after the testator’s death.

If a person dies without having written a valid will, there are certain default rules that a court will apply in dividing up their property. This is called “statutory succession”. The rules apportion shares to surviving family members depending on their ties to the decedent. Surviving spouses always get some share, though the size will depend on the structure of the rest of the family. If there is no surviving spouse, the property will first be divided amongst the decedent’s children. If the decedent didn’t have any children, it will go to the ascendants (parents, grandparents, etc.). If there are no ascendants, then to the decedent’s siblings. The rules are quite a bit more complicated than this, however, and can become tricky the more complicated the family tree.

Succession and estate matters are a relatively undeveloped area of law in Cambodia. Although it will take some time, the Civil Code should be a positive step forward in formalizing and routinizing such matters.