Article by Grzegorz E. Woźniak , Founder and Managing Partner of Wozniak Legal
Poland does not have a law providing for the restitution of property nationalised by the communist government after WW2, so for the time being the process must be looked into on an individual basis. We, at Wozniak Legal handle many restitution claims for families who fled Poland after 1945. The process is unfortunately very slow and there are many obstacles. Recently there has been more focus given to the irregularities and scandals surrounding the matter than on the actual process of restitution itself.
‘So, what should I do to uncover my property in Poland, Grzegorz? ’ is a question I hear time and time again by people calling me from abroad. In fact, the answer is pretty simple: by being pro-active. ‘Try and try again’ is the best piece of advice I can give.
There are four ways which can help you uncover your family’s lost real estate in Poland.
1) Check your family albums
Decide what you want to achieve in the long run, then take a small step towards it. The first step is to review all family documents, files, old photographs, letters or diaries. This should help with clarifying what assets were once owned by your family in Poland and what the possible location and addresses are. Do not diminish the importance of anything you come across.
2) Talk to your grandma
The second step is talking to your grandparents and other elderly people in your family. They usually remember many stories and hold lots of valuable information. It could be that there are no documents but recollections of the living people may lead you onto the right track.
3) Establish the line of inheritance in your family
The question of inheritance is very important. More often than not, pre-war property owners died in Poland hence the inheritance will be governed by Polish succession law. There is a main line of inheritance (children inherit from parents) but also a side inheritance (in the absence of children - a brother inherits from his sisters).
4) Collaborate and build a good team around you
Reconstruct the history of your family on the basis of information you have gathered from the photo albums and your relatives. Remember: you are now a depositary of an extraordinary tradition and insight into your ancestors’ past, so take good care of it. Consider seeking the advice of a professional genealogist – they are very good at identifying the roots.
Collaborate with your family members and agree on a strategy. Build a good team around you, including lawyers. Polish solicitors are necessary for researching the national archives and ascertaining whether you have a case.
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The views are those of the author and not those of the Law Society.