Our Munich Office has relocated

Same district, but larger and more modern offices!

Since 1st of June you can find our Munich lawyers in the modern and centrally located Agendis Business Center building on Radlkoferstr. 2. We are looking forward to meeting you in our new office! For those clients who specifically chose our firm because we were located right next to the Octoberfest area: Relax, the new office is only 500 meters south-west of the old one. So you can still drop by the Octoberfest if you feel like having a beer after having listened to our lawyers. Read more on our firm’s website.

Elective Share Rules under German Inheritance Law (Pflichtteil)

German Testators cannot fully disinherit their Children and their Spouse. Not even their Parents for that matter!

It has always been a principle of German inheritance law that close relatives are entitled to a portion of the deceased’s estate, even if the deceased had expressly disinherited those close relatives in his or her Last Will and Testament. This is called “Pflichtteil” (section 2303 German Civil Code), which can be translated forced share or compulsory portion to the estate.While many states in the USA know a similar principle, namely the so called “elective share”, these US American elective share rules usually only apply to the surviving spouse. In Germany, however, not only the surviving spouse is entitled to claim the Pflichtteil (elective share), but also the testator’s descendants (children, grandchildren etc) and even his or her parents! Not, however, the testator’s siblings or even further removed relatives like nephews, nieces or cousins.

The German elective share is the statutory amount that a surviving spouse, descendant or parent may choose to take of the deceased’s estate as an alternative to what was provided (or rather: not provided) for him or her in the deceased spouse’s Last Will and Testament. Such election is not automatic and must be made within 3 years of gaining knowledge of having been disinherited (in practice, from issuing letters of administration, i.e. the German Erbschein). The Pflichtteil may be utilized if the Will leaves the spouse, child or parent less than he or she would otherwise receive by statute, i.e. German intestacy rules.

If a German testator wishes not to be bound by these elective share rules, he or she can agree with the spouse, child etc that they waive this right. However, such a elective share waiver agreement (Pflichtteilsverzichtsvertrag) is only valid if recorded by a German notary and it obviously requires some form of remuneration to motivate the relative to sign such waiver.

For more information on cross border probate matters, international will preparation and German inheritance tax matters see the below posts by the international succession law and tax law experts of German law firm Graf & Partners LLP:

Or simply click on the “German Probate” section in the right column of this blog.

The Anglo-German law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German probate and tax matters, including the representation of clients in contentious probate matters. We are experts ininternational succession matters, probate and inheritance law. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border inheritance case please contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) at +49 941 463 7070.

Purchase German Property by Online Auction?

Beware of buying German real estate through the internet. It does not work that way in Germany!

Our firm specalises in German-British and German-Amercian legal matters. Thus, we are sometimes contacted by non-German clients who proudly tell us that they have just successfully bought German property by way of online auction, for example from “MIDLAND ASSET MANAGEMENT LTD” or another online auction service provider.

There is just one small problem with this: In order to be valid, German law requires any agreement regarding property transactions (sale of real estate) to be recorded by a German notary (or a German consular officer abroad), see section 873 German Civil Code (Conveyancing):

Section 873 Acquisition of Property by Agreement and Registration in the German Land Registry

(1) The transfer of the ownership of a plot of land, the encumbrance of a plot of land with a right and the transfer or encumbrance of such a right require agreement between the person entitled and the other person on the occurrence of the change of rights and the registration of the change of rights in the Land Register, except insofar as otherwise provided by law.

(2) Before the registration, the parties are bound by the agreement only if the declarations are notarially recorded, or made before the Land Registry, or submitted to the Land Registry, or if the person entitled has delivered to the other person an approval of registration that satisfies the provisions of the Land Register Code [Grundbuchordnung].

 

Thus, any “only auction” of German real estate (plots of land, apartments, houses) is not legally binding at all. It can merely be regarded, at best, as a non-binding letter of intent. If the owner changes his mind, for instance because he found another bidder who is willing to pay more, the online buyer has zero rights.

However, the online auction service providers usually do not explain this non-binding nature of the auction at all. To the contrary, they make it sound as if the “online buyer” is legally entitled to demand property transfer or that the buyer even automatically becomes the owner upon completion of the auction.

Midland Asset Management, for example, only hints at “certain formal requirements” which need to be taken care of. Well, no kidding! The seller and the buyer must appear in person before a German notary (or a consular officer) to actually sign the real sale deed. Everything else is just an empty promise. Buyers usually are not aware of these formal conveyancing requirements and the travel costs, notary fees and translation costs connected with all that.

But, and this is the risky and potentially fraudulent aspect, the online auction service providers do require the “buyer” to pay the full purchase price for the German property up front, i.e. before the sale is officially recorded by a German notary. See, for example, the auction ad by Midland Asset Management on Bidspotter.co.uk:

If, for any reason, the actual sale at the notary’s office does not happen, then the buyer has only a rather weak “undue enrichment” claim against the online auction provider, unless fraud can be proven. Let alone the fact that these providers are often limited companies with virtual offices.

Therefore, do NOT try to purchase German real estate online. But if you absolutely must, do not pay the full purchase price upfront. Instead, inform the online service provider that you are aware of the German conveyancing laws and formal requirements of seeing a notary and discuss with the service provider how this can be effected. If the service provider then runs or tries to avoid this issue, you know that you deal with a shady or incompetent partner.

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More information on buying property in Germany, the German Land Registry and conveyancing process and the rights and duties of tenants and landlords in Germany is available in these posts:

Or simply click on the sections “Property” or “Conveyancing in Germany” in the right column of this blog.

Does a German Last Will & Testament become void if the Testator later marries or has Children?

Not automatically, but the surviving spouse and/or the child may challenge the Will for being “outdated”. The German legal term is “Anfechtung” according to section 2079 German Civil Code (Section Wills & Probate), which states:

Section 2079 German Civil Code

Avoidance for omission of a person entitled to a compulsory portion

A testamentary disposition may be avoided if the testator has omitted a person entitled to a compulsory portion who is in existence at the time of the devolution of the inheritance, the existence of whom was unknown to the testator when he made the testamentary disposition or who was born or became entitled to a compulsory portion only after the making of the testamentary disposition. Avoidance is excluded to the extent that it is to be assumed that the testator would have made the disposition even if he had known the circumstances.

This statute of German probate law is a so called “Auslegungsregel” (i.e. statutory rule of interpretation of a Will). It is meant to clarify this situation: The testator has made his or her Will at a time when he/she was not married, then later marries but does not modify or revoke the Will, then dies. In these circumstances, if German succession law applies, the Will shall be interpreted as being valid but voidable (anfechtbar). The surviving spouse may challenge this Will by making a formal declaration of avoidance (Anfechtungserklärung) to the competent German probate court. This must be done within a statutory deadline of one year from when the person entitled to challenge the Will has obtained knowledge of the grounds of avoidance.

The same rule applies if the testator has children after setting up a Will under German law. Then the child has the right to void the German will which the testator has created at a time when he or she did not know about this child.

However, this rule of interpretation does not apply if there is no room for such interpretation. If, for example, the testator has explicitly stated in the German Will that this Will shall remain valid even if he or she later marries or has (further) children, then section 2079 German Civil Code cannot be invoked. If the Will itself is silent on the matter but the testator has mentioned that the Will shall remain valid in such situations, then it becomes difficult. Such contentious probate cases can drag on for years in German courts and usually the party invoking section 2079 German Civil Code prevails.

Spouses in Germany often create mirror wills (Berliner Testament, Ehegattentestament) and explicitly preclude (ausschließen) this section 2079 BGB, because they want to protect themselves against the Will being voided if the surviving spouse later marries again or has additional children.

For more information on cross border probate matters, international will preparation and German inheritance tax matters see the below posts by the international succession law and tax law experts of German law firm Graf & Partners LLP:

Or simply click on the “German Probate” section in the right column of this blog.

The Anglo-German law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German probate and tax matters, including the representation of clients in contentious probate matters. We are experts ininternational succession matters, probate and inheritance law. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border inheritance case please contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) at +49 941 463 7070.

Higher Probate Fees in the UK as of May 2017

Update 25 April 2017: The below post is outdated because due to Theresa May’s snap election called for 8th June 2017, the British government has dropped the plans to raise probate fees (at least for now). More on the matter here.

Please note that the UK Probate fees will change from May 2017. For estates with a value of up to £50,000 (pre IHT) the fees will be nil. This is an improvement, because the current threshold for fee exempt estates was £5,000. For all other estates, the probate fees will now be significantly higher. The current flat fee up to now was £215. The future probate fees for estates in the United Kingdom are:

Value of estate (before inheritance tax) Probate Fee
Up to £50,000 or exempt from requiring a grant of probate £0
Exceeds £50,000 but does not exceed £300,000 £300
Exceeds £300,000 but does not exceed £500,000 £1,000
Exceeds £500,000 but does not exceed £1m £4,000
Exceeds £1m but does not exceed £1.6m £8,000
Exceeds £1.6m but does not exceed £2m £12,000
Above £2m £20,000

More details on the increased UK Probate Fees are available here.

For more information on cross border probate matters, international will preparation and German inheritance tax matters see the below posts by the international succession law and tax law experts of German law firm Graf & Partners LLP:

Or simply click on the “German Probate” section in the right column of this blog.

The Anglo-German law firm Graf & Partners and its German-English litigation department GP Chambers was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German probate and tax matters, including the representation of clients in contentious probate matters. We are experts ininternational succession matters, probate and inheritance law. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border inheritance case please contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) at +49 941 463 7070.

Checklist for forming a UK Limited Company

If you do business on an international level, you should carefully choose the ideal company form to use. Should, for instance, your business depend upon attracting German customers and/or suppliers, the best choice may not be an English limited liability company, because such a company does not have the best reputation in Germany. In this case, you might want to opt for a German GmbH (for details on how to establish a German limited liability company see here). Vice versa, if you are a German entrepreneur doing business in the UK, you might want to consider establishing an English limited liability company. Here is a brief checklist on what to consider when establishing such an English company.

A company is registered by filing the necessary documents and paying the required fee at Companies House. The company is brought into existence when the Registrar of Companies (Registrar) issues the certificate of incorporation.

The prospective owners of the company can either:

  • register a new company with documents that are specifically tailored to their requirements (a tailor-made company); or
  • buy a company that has already been incorporated but has not yet traded (a shelf company).

To form a private company limited by shares, form IN01 (Application to register a company) must be completed and filed with the Registrar of Companies. In order to complete the registration process, could you please answer the following questions:

  • What is the proposed company name?
  • Country of registered office and intended address of the company’s registered office? If you do not intend to have an actual office, please let us know as we can recommend a service agency who can do this on your behalf.
  • How do you want the company to be governed? There are standard articles of association, however, for example, if you would like the shareholders to have more say than the directors, please let us know as the articles will have to be amended/drafted to reflect this.
  • Details of first directors and secretary (if any) including title, full name and former names, date of birth, country or state of residence, nationality, occupation, service and residential addresses.
  • Are any service contracts to be entered into with the directors? Are there any other contracts or arrangements with any director or person connected with a director?
  • What is the share capital? I.e. how many shares and at what price do you want the shares to be? We would always suggest using 1GBP per 1 share.
  • Statement of initial significant control. From 30 June 2016, newly incorporated companies must file a statement of initial significant control at Companies House as part of the application for registration (sections 9(4)(d) and 12A, CA 2006). This statement must identify any subscriber who qualifies as a registrable person with significant control (PSC) (or registrable relevant legal entity) and that information must be used to populate the company’s PSC register. The details must be submitted on Form IN01. If there are no persons with significant control, a statement to this effect must be made on Form IN01.
  • If there is more than one shareholder, do you want to have a shareholder’s agreement?

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK, the USA and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.

Pursuing Legal Action in Germany?

You found the German law firm perfectly equipped to address your legal needs in Germany

Since 2003, German law firm Graf & Partners specialises in providing legal advice and litigation services to British and American clients. The majority of our clients come from Britain, the USA or other English speaking countries and are in need of pursuing a legal matter in Germany. If you need a competent and trustworthy attorney anywhere in Germany, our experienced contract lawyers and bilingual litigators will be happy to assist.

The firm’s managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl and several other lawyers in our litigation team have studied and worked in the USA and/or Britain. As a result, Graft & Partners have established a unique and impressive international legal practice, which focuses specifically on British-German and German-American legal cases and issues. Our Anglo-German lawyer team is headed by British and Canadian citizen Elissa Jelowicki, a qualified English solicitor, and Registered European Lawyer, admitted to the Munich Bar Association. Therefore, foreign clients and instructing lawyers from the UK and America are able to discuss their specific case with a native English speaker, who also knows the English legal system.

Our German and British litigation lawyers appear before German law Courts throughout the country and are also experienced in (Commercial) Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution. We provide specialist legal advice, support and forensic services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims and contentious probate. In addition, our family law experts deal with international divorces and child custody matters. In relation to other legal areas, e.g. criminal law or tax, we will be happy to recommend qualified German lawyers from other chambers, who are also fluent in English.

On a regular basis, we speak on German-American and British-German legal issues at lawyer conventions and at in-house events of international companies and law firms. See here for some of the topics we have spoken on recently:

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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Call the experts on German-British and German-American legal matters

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German lawyers are fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Bernhard Schmeilzl_crop1Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, especially German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003. 

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.

Pitfalls of German Law (Part 2)

Be careful when suing a German Kommanditgesellschaft (KG), an Offene Handelsgesellschaft (OHG) or a Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GBR)

The single most common mistake foreign claimants and their non-German litigation lawyers make when taking a German business to court is that they only sue the partnership itself and not the personally liable partners (persönlich haftende Gesellschafter).

To avoid any misunderstanding: This post deals with German partnerships (Personengesellschaften) as debtors, not with German limited liability companies (GmbH) or German corporations (Aktiengesellschaft). If the debtor is a German company, then – normally – only the company itself can be sued, not the company’s shareholders. There may be special circumstances when a director of even a shareholder may be personally liable for a company debt (piercing the company veil, in German: Durchgriffshaftung), but this is the exception to the rule.

The situation is entirely different with German partnerships, which come in four different shapes and forms:

  • Kommanditgesellschaft (KG), mostly in the form of a GmbH & Co KG
  • Offene Handelsgesellschaft (OHG)
  • Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GbR), also called BGB-Gesellschaft
  • Partnerschaftsgesellschaft (PartG)

What these German partnerships have in common is that there is at least one partner who is liable for all business debts with his entire personal property (Privatvermögen). The relevant statute is section 128 German Commercial Code (§ 128 Handelsgesetzbuch). With regard to the OHG and the GbR all partners are fully liable. With regard to the Kommanditgesellschaft (KG) there are two kinds of partners: fully liable partners (Komplementäre) and limited partners (Kommanditisten), who are only liable up to the amount they have invested.

Now, if you (or your client) have a claim against such a German KG, OHG, GbR or PartG, the biggest mistake you can make is to sue only the partnership itself. This is because with a court order against the partnership you can only enforce your claim against the partnership, i.e. the business assets of said partnership. In many cases, however, it is likely that there are no longer any business assets to go after as the partnership is doing poorly or has even folded.

In these circumstances, you will naturally want to go after the personally liable partners of the partnership. And, you can. But only if you have listed them as joint and several co-debtors (Gesamtschuldner) in your lawsuit against the partnership.

If you (or your litigation lawyer) have not done this, then the court order cannot be enforced against the partners. You will have to start a new lawsuit all over again. In some cases, you may of course face limitation problems by then (German limitation periods are explained here).

Thus, whether you sue the German partnership in Germany or abroad, you must ensure that you do not only list the partnership itself as a defendant but also every personally liable partner which you may want to enforce the court order against at a later stage. Psychologically, this puts much more presure on the defendants and thus increases the chances of payment or a favourable settlement agreement. By the way: the lawsuit costs are not increased by co-suing the partners. So there is no reason whatsoever not to include them in your court claim.

See here for other “Pitfalls of German Law“.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK, the USA and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070 in order to contact German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester), managing partner and head of the litigation department. Bernhard is also frequently asked by British and US Courts and Tribunals or by legal counsels to provide expert reports and legal opinions on German law.

Dodging Debts by Moving to the UK?

Has your German Debtor moved to the UK and declared himself or herself bankrupt under the UK / British Insolvency Rules?

Since we specialise in British-German legal matters, our firm very often gets enquiries from German individuals, companies or banks regarding a situation whereby a German individual has moved to the United Kingdom and declared bankruptcy in order to avoid paying their debts and liabilities back in Germany. Even further, it is quite common that civil proceedings will have been commenced in Germany, but particular the individual pleads that they do not need to repay the debt in Germany in light of their bankruptcy back in the UK.

The way individuals are able to declare bankruptcy in the UK is now much much easier than before (yes, a bit shocking considering it was not that difficult before). Previously, one would have to petition to the Court, however, as of 6 April 2016, the individual debtor no longer has to. Instead, they must make an online application to an adjudicator (not a judge anymore). If a debtor’s application provides all the prescribed information, and is considered appropriate, the adjudicator will automatically (this is indeed what makes the new system scary) make a bankruptcy order pursuant to its statutory jurisdiction under the Insolvency Act 1986 (IA 1986). The adjudicator is an official appointed by the Secretary of State for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (again – this adjudicator no longer has to be legally qualified).

The adjudicator has no inherent discretion over whether to make an order (again this probably concerns you if you believe that the individual is not telling the truth). If the statutory requirements for an order are met, the adjudicator must make it; if they are not met, the adjudicator cannot make the order.

The statutory requirements are:

  • The adjudicator had jurisdiction under section 263Iof the IA 1986 to determine the application on the date the application was made.
  • The debtor is unable to pay his or her debts at the date of the determination.
  • No bankruptcy petition is pending in relation to the debtor at the date of the determination.
  • No bankruptcy order has been made in respect of any of the debts which are the subject of the application at the date of the determination.

The adjudicator must make a bankruptcy order against the debtor, or refuse to make such an order, before the end of 28 days from the date of the bankruptcy application, unless the adjudicator requests further information from the debtor. If the adjudicator requests further information the adjudicator has 42 days from the date of the application to make an order. If the adjudicator does not respond to the debtor before the end of this period, the application is deemed refused.

What do you do in such a situation? Well, the process is not easy, but it is possible to overturn such a bankruptcy order, referred to a lot of time as a „sham bankruptcy in order to avoid paying debts“. The courts have retained their general jurisdiction over all bankruptcy proceedings commenced following the adjudicator’s bankruptcy order (including a rescission or annulment application), and will also hear any appeal from the adjudicator’s decision to refuse to make a bankruptcy order.  Moreover, it is an offence if the individual knowingly or recklessly to make any false representation or omission in making a bankruptcy application to the adjudicator or providing any information to the adjudicator in connection with a bankruptcy application.

It is also an offence knowingly or recklessly to fail to notify the adjudicator of a matter in accordance with a requirement imposed by the legislation. It does not matter whether or not a bankruptcy order is made as a result of the relevant application, and it will be no defence that any part of the offence was committed outside England and Wales.

So, if you are owed money in Germany and believe that your German debtor has run to the UK to declare themselves bankrupt, and in fact, it is a sham, you should contact the local bankruptcy department as soon as possible so that it can be overturned.

For more information about German law, in particular civil litigation and debt collection in Germany see these posts:

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The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German legal matters.The Anglo-German litigation lawyer team of GP Chambers is well equipped to advise and represent clients from the UK and other English speaking countries. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070. To contact English solicitor Elissa Jelowicki in Munich please write an e-mail to elissa(AT)grafpartner.com.

Pitfalls of German Contract Law and German Company Regulations (Part 1)

Foreign Contract Lawyers beware of surprising German Laws and Directives!

The German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch, BGB, available in English), the German Commercial Code (Handelsgesetzbuch, HGB, partly available in English), the German Act on Corporations (Aktiengesetz, AktG) and the Act on Limited Liability Companies (GmbHG, available in English) are all full of surprising regulations which can essentially void any agreement or deed drafted by a naive (in the nicest sense) British or US lawyer who is unfamiliar with the specifics of codified German Civil and Commercial Law. Therefore, this article is to make you aware of some of the dangerous pitfalls that you can face when entering into a German agreement. In this post we explain some peculiarities of German contract law which, if not known, can cost non-German in-house lawyers their job and can create liability risks for any foreign contract lawyer.

Some examples? Sure: Did you know, for instance, that giving notice under German law is usually only legally effective, if an original wet ink copy of the letter of termination (written notice) is handed to the employee, tenant, business partner etc? Providing notice by email, fax or orally, has not effect. Or, did you know that under German family law rules, contracts entered into by one spouse are not valid unless and until the other spouse provides his or her consent? Or have you heard about the German legal principle that a unilateral confirmation of contract letter (kaufmännisches Bestätigungsschreiben) sent from one merchant to the other becomes a binding contract if the confirmation letter is not immediately rejected by the recipient of the letter? You may agree, that this is probably rather helpful information if you are dealing with a German contractual partner or if you are the legal counsel of the non-German contractual party.

Don’t be tricked by German Law(yers)!

The following clarifies some statutes and German legal principles any British Solicitor, American Attorney-at-Law and non-German businessman should know before engaging in business in good old Germany:

This statute baffles not only many foreign lawyers (especially from Common Law jurisdictions), but is also often unknown to young German contract lawyers. Section 174 BGB is contained in the “general section” (allgemeiner Teil) of the German Civil Code, which means it applies to all areas of German civil law. In practice, the statute’s somewhat cryptic wording means that if someone acts as attorney, proxy agent or delegate for somebody else, the attorney must present the original, i.e. the wet ink copy of the power of attorney document signed by the constituent (principal). A simple copy, a fax or a scan are not sufficient. The consequences of breaching this law are particularly severe in the area of “unilateral legal acts” (einseitiges Rechtsgeschäft), i.e. if the attorney gives written notice to someone on behalf of the individual or company, or if the attorney sends out a demand note, a dunning letter or a cease and desist letter. All these legal actions have no effect if the attorney does not enclose an original (wet ink) power of representation document (and thus, if not, the recipient can and in most circumstances rejects the letter). Naturally, such notices and legal actions are often made by lawyers for their clients. Thus, the client will not be amused if it turns out that the lawyer’s written notice to the unwanted employee is ineffective for lack of an original power of attorney document. Or if the termination of an agreement is rendered to be too late because the notice period has been missed due to an invalid letter of termination. In our firm, we have have had numerous cases where an agreement, which could only be terminated every 5 years, prolonged for such a period, because a lawyer or another representative of one contractual party tried to terminate the said German agreement without presenting an original POA.

So, what to do as a lawyer? Well, best is to obtain an original POA from the client and enclose it in the letter. If this is not practical or would take too long, then an easy trick to circumvent section 174 German Civil Code is to ask the client to inform the opponent in Germany directly about the fact that the lawyer has been instructed to act on the client’s behalf (see the last sentence of the statute: “Rejection is excluded if the principal notified the other of the authorisation”). For this, strangely, German law does not require written form, so an email or fax from principal to opponent is sufficient. The law is not always entirely logical!

This brief statute appears quite harmless, but can have disastrous effects for one or even both contractual parties if overlooked during negotiations. Simply put, this statute means that an agent (anyone authorised by someone else to act on his behalf, in German a Vertreter) can and may not – at the same time – act (i) in his or her own name or (ii) as agent for another party. May sound cryptic, but does often happen in practice, as you can see from these examples: (1) A managing director of a German company wishes to invest in the company or wishes to buy an asset of said company for himself. (2) A managing director of a company is asked by an investor to represent the investor at a meeting.

Believe it or not: Regardless of which marital property regime you live in, under German law one spouse cannot enter into contracts without the express consent of the other spouse if the contract covers the vast majority of one’s fortune. Sounds cryptic again? Well, here is an everyday example: A husband owns property which is worth more than 80 or 90% of his entire fortune. If he wishes to sell this property, the deed of sale is not valid unless the other spouse co-signs the notarial deed providing their consent to the same. The same is true if one spouse tries to sell a business or another asset which constitutes the majority of that spouse’s fortune.

As a purchaser of German property or of the shares of a German company owned by that spouse you would probably like to know if that asset makes up the vast majority of that person’s wealth and you would want to make sure that the spouse does agree to the transaction. Otherwise, the deal could explode years later.

  • Contradicting General Terms (AGB), no “last shot doctrine”

In contrast to most Common Law jurisdictions, German Civil Law does not apply the last shot doctrine when it comes to general terms and conditions. Instead, if parties reject each other’s general terms, then neither terms apply to the extent they contradict each other. Instead, the default statutory provisions apply. This can lead to significantly different results depending on whether German or British or US law applies to a business transaction.

  • Confirmation letter between merchants (“kaufmännisches Bestätigungsschreiben”)

Another speciality of German commercial law is the so called “kaufmännisches Bestätigungsschreiben”, i.e. the confirmation letter between merchants. This legal principle of German law means that if merchants orally discuss a deal or transaction, and one party does confirm what that party believes the oral agreement was, then the content of the confirmation letter becomes legally binding unless the other party rejects the content of the confirmation letter without undue delay (ohne schuldhaftes Zögern), which in practice means 2-5 business days. Thus, if you are doing business with Germans, do not ignore letters you receive from the German business partner, even if you think that what they “confirm” in that letter is nonsense. A binding contract can come into existence without you ever signing a piece of paper or expressly re-confirming the terms.

  • How expensive are German lawyers? What is the Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz (RVG)? Fee agreement clauses of German lawyers with their clients

Clients and lawyers from outside Germany usually assume that legal fees need to be agreed on when they hire a German legal counsel and – until they sign a fee agreement – they do not enter into any financial obligations. You could not be more wrong. Because, to the surprise of many non-German clients, lawyer fees are regulated by statutory provisions. These fees can be significantly higher or lower compared to hourly rates in Common Law jurisdictions, because the German lawyer fees do depend on the value of the legal dispute, not so much on the amount of time spent on the case. So, if you hire a German lawyer because a debtor does not pay a debt worth EUR 500,000, the German lawyer writes one short letter and the debtor immediately pays, then the German lawyer has earned legal fees of approximately EUR 5,000 in spite of having only spent 30 minutes on the case. If the debt is only EUR 5,000 and the lawyer has to write numerous letters, make dozens of phone calls until the debtor pays, then the German lawyer earns only EUR 350, in spite of having spent 3-5 hours on the case. The thinking behind this German lawyer fee table is that the wealthier German clients shall pay higher fees and shall thus subsidize the legal costs of clients who claim only small amounts. In theory, on average it will level out for German lawyers. In practice, however, qualified German lawyers, especially experts in international law, will not accept a case unless the client is willing to pay hourly fees comparable to those in Britain and larger cities in the USA. More on the issue of German legal fees and lawyer remuneration here.

To be continued ……

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German lawyers are fluent in English, have many years of practical experience with clients from Britiain and the USA and are part of a well established network of law, tax and accounting firms.

Bernhard Schmeilzl_crop1Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, especially German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German legal exams with distinction, he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in EU Commercial Law in 2003. But do not mistake Bernhard for a German lawyer who focuses merely on German-British legal matters.

In 2014, Graf Partners LLP has set up the international litigation department GP Chambers which focuses on providing professional litigation services to British and US-American clients, both on a commercial and a private client level. The Graf Partners litigation lawyers regularly appear before German law Courts throughout the country and provide specialist legal advice, support and advocacy services in all commercial and civil law matters, ranging from contract disputes, corporate litigation and employment, to damage claims, divorces and contentious probate. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border case, or if you need an expert report on German law, please call +49 941 463 7070.