De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Family assets

Family assets concept

Family assets, in the sense envisaged here, include the home and its belongings. In the rural world in the past, the aim was to ensure that those assets would be passed on it full or with the smallest loss and increased if possible, from parents to children, or more commonly from the parent to the son or daughter who would remain “on the homestead”.

Thus, in Zeanuri (B) it was made up of what was known as etxaguntzia which comprised etxea, soloak, mendiak, the house, the fields and the upland; ondasunek which are abereak, laborea and basoak, livestock, harvest and forests; along with the farmstead’s tools and implements. Traditionally, the distinction was usually made between ondasunek, goods, and diruek, money. The assets had greater social status in the past while household goods and the production are less appreciated today than money.

Co-ownership of assets contributed to the marriage

Spouses usually co-owned both the assets brought to the marriage and those acquired or as community property. In general, couples only married with separation of assets in the case of wealthy families or when there was a business that they wanted to separate from the fate of the spouses’ jointly-owned goods. The surveys showed that for some time now the young couple often marry with a settlement separating assets.

Freedom to bequeath and blood line of inheritance in the charter system

In the territories where the charter rights have been preserved, Tierra de Ayala in Álava, Tierra Llana in Bizkaia and Navarra, in the rural area, the farmstead assets are linked to the family line of inheritance, which meant that the farmstead and its belongings continue in the family line of the relatives from where they came, i.e. in the blood line. There is freedom to bequeath within the blood line of inheritance. The assets subject to this restriction are known as core assets.

Wills in territory of the common law system

In the territories where the charter system is not applicable, the common law system is in force which in principle envisages the distribution of the assets equally between the children[1]. The inheritance was by legacy through wills and there were no provisions to appoint an heir which frequently was the case in the marriage settlements in the charter territory in the past. However, there were procedures to improve the situation the son and daughter who were to remain in the family home in rural areas.

Intestate inheritance

It was reported in several locations surveyed that it was strange for one of the spouses to die without the couple having written their wills or marriage settlements existing with the testamentary provisions. The people surveyed recalled few cases of intestate inheritance. In those situations, the general applicable principle was that the inheritance had to be equally shared between the offspring, as was reflected in the surveys. However, in certain places, there were known cases of subterfuges to avoid the family home and its belongings to be divided to thus be able to keep the main assets intact, as would occur in the cases of marriage settlements or of testate estate.

Will of the childless uncle

In Abezia, Pipaón, Ribera Alta, Valdegovía (A); Amorebieta-Etxano, Andraka, Bermeo, Zeanuri (B); Beasain, Berastegi, Hondarribia, Legazpi, Oñati, Orexa, Zerain (G); Allo, Obanos, San Martín de Unx, Sangüesaand Valle de Roncal (N) it was reported that the childless uncle, in general, would name as the heir of the homestead and/or of his property the nephew or niece who lived with him and looked after him in his old age, or, sometimes the younger married sibling who lived with him. The nephew who was the godchild was in a more favoured position among the nephews and nieces when it came to naming an heir. In Zerain (G), they said that the bachelor uncle usually also left a token to other nephews and nieces and godchildren.

Legacies to non-relatives

Several of the surveyed locations reported that it is unusual for a will to be written with the heirs being people outside the family circle and parentage. In Zeanuri (B), they recalled the right of withdrawal provision that the blood line relatives had with respect to the core aspects. Wills covering real estate were not entered into unless that were first liquidated.

Cases of wills leaving legacies to non-relatives were found. Thus, there were cases of wills in Pipaón (A) and in Obanos (N) leaving a legacy to people outside the family in gratitude of having looked after the testator in old age and in illnesses.

In the past, legacies were also left in wills to charities or the Church. For example, in Abezia (A) priests and monks would frequently not leave their worldly goods to the family, but rather to their religious order or for masses to be said. In Ribera Alta (A), there were cases of childless couples where the Church was the beneficiary of their estate.

  1. In Gipuzkoa, in general, the hereditary system has been modified in the rural area since 1999 and there is the option to gift or bequeath the whole rural holding to a single child, separating it from the inheritance of the others. The charter system continues to be applicable in the Tierra de Ayala in Álava.