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 statutes which can render void any agreement or deed drafted by a naive British or US lawyer being unfamiliar with the specifics of codified German Civil and Commercial Law.

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 cancellation (written notice) is handed to the employee, tenant, business partner etc? Giving 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 gives his or her consent? Or have you heard about the German legal principle that a confirmation of contract (kaufmännisches Bestätigungsschreiben) sent from one merchant to the other becomes a binding contract if the confirmation letter is not immediately contradicted by the other party? 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)!

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. 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 constituent 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 if the recipient thus 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 now comes too late because the notice period has been missed due to an invalid letter of termination. In our firm, we have hade numerous cases where an agreement, which could only be terminated every 5 years, prolonged for such perid, because a lawyer or another representative of one contractual party tried to terminate 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 to the letter. If this is unpracticable 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 desastrous effects for one or even both contractual parties if overlooked during negotiations. In simple language, 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 sounds 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 life 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? 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 sale deed is not valid unless the other spouse co-signs the notarial deed. 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 jursidictions, German Civil Law does not apply the last shot doctrine when it comes to general terms and conditions. Instead, if parties reject each others general terms, then neither terms do 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 laws do apply 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 your 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 intgo existence without you ever signing a piece of paper.

  • 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 coudl 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 debts is only EUR 5,000 and the lawyer ha sto 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 subsidise 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 ……

– – –

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.

German-American Law Firm based in Munich

Need a German lawyer who knows how to swing a baseball bat? 

Looking for a German lawyer who is aware of the fact that “morning joe” is not a coffee brand and that “take me out to the ball game” does not refer to soccer fans? Look no further. The lawyers of the Munich based German corporate, litigation and probate law firm Graf & Partners LLP specialise in German American legal issues since 2003.

Better Call Berny

Founding member and managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) was admitted to the German Bar in 2001 and specialises in German-American and German-British legal matters ever since, especially in German-American and German-English commercial and probate cases. In addition to obtaining his German law degree in 1999 and taking his German bar exam in 2001 (both with distinction), he also graduated from the English University of Leicester where he obtained his Master of Laws degree in Commercial Law in 2003. But do not mistake Bernhard for a German lawyer who focuses merely on German-British legal matters.

German Litigation Lawyer with a Batting Average of .370

Between 1990 and 1998, Bernhard has spent a total of 2 years in the United States, working as a summer camp counsellor in New Jersey, an assistant German teacher at Lawrenceville prep school near Trenton, New Jersey, as a baseball coach in Arizona and later as a trainee lawyer in New York and San Diego, California.

After Bernhard qualified as a German contract and commercial litigation attorney with the Munich bar association, he has specialised in US-German legal matters and has built a network of US-American lawyers who also specialise in German-American corporate and commercial law, international sports law, German-American probate cases and international estate administration.

Therefore, while Bernhard is well acquainted with the ways of English solicitors and barristers and their respective ways to go about a legal case, he is even better equipped to team up with United States attorneys at law.

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.

So, if you need a German lawyer who did not just have English in school, but who really speaks your language and knows where you are coming from, contact the experts on German-American and German-British law:

gp-logoa German limited liability partnership of German lawyers admitted to the Munich Bar Association (Rechtsanwaltskammer) with the right to represent clients in all courts of law throughout Germany, registered with the District Court Munich, Partnership Register Nr. 438, represented by its managing partners Bernhard Schmeilzl and Katrin Groll.

Our central switchboard number in Germany is: +49 (0) 941 463 7070

For more information about civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

German Tax Clearance Certificate (Inheritance Tax)

What is required to get German assets released to British or US-American executors or beneficiaries?

In order to get German assets released, the executors or beneficiaries must be able to provide the German banks or insurers with a German (or European) Grant of Probate – unless the testator has made the will in notarial form or the testator has granted a transmortal power of attorney. For more on how to access German assets without having to go through probate see this post.

What is often forgotten, however, is that in addition to the German grant of probate (Erbschein), the German banks will also ask to see a tax clearance certificate or “certificate of non objection”, in German called “Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung”. Without such German tax clearance letter from the German Finanzamt (tax office), the bank is not allowed to release the assets, especially not for a transfer abroad. More on the legal requirements regarding the release of foreign assets to foreign beneficiaries here.

This is what a typical inheritance tax clearance confirmation letter issued by a German tax office (Finanzamt) looks like. Usually, the German tax authorities send the tax clearance certificate directly to the respective bank to inform them about thefact that the monies may now be released to the executor or the beneficiaries.

The clearance certificate is issued by the local German tax office dealing with the inheritance, usually the city where the testator had his or her last Germany residence. To obtain the clearance certificate, the executor or the beneficiaries must submit the German IHT forms and pay any German inheritance tax due.

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.

– – – –

Solicitor_SchmeilzlThe 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.

 

Putting Someone on Speaker Phone without telling them?

In their piece about Speakerphone Etiquette, The Huffington Post recommends:

“Always ask the person on the other end of the line if he or she minds being put on the speakerphone. Some people find them annoying and invasive.”

This is excellent advice, especially if you speak to Germans on the phone. Why so? Because a German might not only be annoyed to find out that somehas has secretly listened in on the phone conversation. Instead, he or she might even press criminal charges, because under German law, putting someone on speaker phone (without telling them first and getting their consent) may consitute a criminal offence. Section 201 German Criminal Code protects the privacy of the non-publicly spoken word. Taping a phone call without the other party’s consent (which can easily be done with any modern smart phone nowadays) is even worse.

But even if such eavesdropping is not found to be a crime under certain circumstances, both putting someone on speakerphone without telling them first and listening in on such a phone conversation does constitute a violation of German civil laws (tort) and data protection regulations. As a consequence, someone who has secretly listened in on a phone conversation, is not allowed to appear as a witness on what he or she has heard in a German court of law. civil lawsuit. Thus, the (bad) habit of having a co-worker or one’s spouse covertly listen in on a phoen call to “have a witness for what the other party has said” is not only rude, but also dangerous and useless in regards to creating evidence. Furthermore, you can end up with a costly cease and desist order.

There are exceptional circumstances when putting someone on speaker without disclosing this fact to the other party is allowed under German law, for example when there is reason to believe that the other party may insult or threaten the caller, speak about a crime etc. Or when the other party knows from previous calls that speaker phones are typically used and the caller has never objected to this in the past.

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

– – –

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 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.

How to sell inherited German Property

An English or American Executor finds that the Testator’s Estate comprises a Flat, House or Plot of Land in Germany. What now?

If the deceased owned real estate in Germany which the executor or the beneficiaries now wish to sell as soon as possible, this legal guide explains what needs to be done to sell an inherited home in Germany. The sale of the German property may be complicated further if the house or flat is currently leased to a tenant, because German law protects private tenants against termination of the lease agreement. But first things first:

(I) Obtain German Grant of Probate (Certificate of Inheritance)

From a German law perspective, the estate of the deceased is not administered by a personal representative. Instead, the estate passes directly to the heirs due to the principles of automatic inheritance (Vonselbsterwerb) and universal succession (Gesamtrechtsnachfolge). If there are several heirs, they form a community of heirs (Erbengemeinschaft) and must act unanimously. More on this here.

Unfortunately, due to the UK opting out of the EU Succession Regulation, an English Grant of Probate or a Scottish Letter of Confirmation are not accepted in Germany (and vice versa). Non-EU Grants of Probate are even less acceptable. Thus, in order to prove to the German Land Registry and to the potential buyers who is entitled to sell and transfer the German flat or house, the executors or beneficiaries will have to go through German probate. There are two options for this: (i) to apply for a Certificate of Inheritance (which is the standard approach) or (ii) to apply for a Certificate of Executorship (which is the exception in Germany). More on how to apply for German probate here.

However, since in most inheritance cases from Common Law jurisdictions the wills are usually very clear on the issue of who the executors are, but not necessarily very clear on who – in German terminology – the “heirs” are and what the heir’s respective shares and rights would be. Thus, in these Anglo-German or American-German succession cases, it is sometimes simpler to apply for a Certificate of Executorship. A Certificate of Executorship does, in contrast to the Certificate of Inheritance, not state who the beneficiaries are, but instead it only states who is entitled to administer the estate. Such a Certificate of Executorship is in most cases accepted as sufficient proof by German courts and the German land registry. However, there is a small risk that a Certificate of Inheritance (Erbschein) may be demanded to effect the sale. Still, in most international succession cases we suggest to opt for the Certificate of Executorship.

The application does involve a significant amount of paperwork and the Executor will have to swear an oath in the presence of either a German notary or – in the UK or the USA – before a German consular officer.

Our law firm prepares the necessary application wording, sends a list of required documents and arranges for certified translations of the English or American documents (wills, death certificates etc) into German. Once the executors have taken the oath, we shall send the application to the German probate court at the deceased’s last German residential address.

(II) Putting the Property on the Market / Resolve Tenant Issue

If the testator did not live in Germany himself then chances are that he or she has leased the property to tenants. Under German law, the flat can be sold even if it is currently being leased to a tenant. The lease agreement automatically transfers onto the new owner. The German legal buzz word is “Kauf bricht nicht Miete” (selling the property does not terminate lease). An investment buyer may even like the idea of the German flat being rented out. However, having a tenant inhabiting the German property does limit the number of potential buyers because, in reality, most buyers are looking to move in themselves, especially if it is a small apartment or small house in a rural German area, where no one is interested to purchase property for investment reasons.

Thus, executors and beneficiaries usually wish to end the lease agreement and remove the German tenant. Evicting such a tenant is, however, rather tricky in Germany, because private tenants are well protected under German civil law. Lease agreements are usually open ended in Germany and the owner (here the executor) needs a legitimate reason to terminate such lease agreement. The most common reasons being non-payment of the rent or a need of the owner to use the flat for himself or a family member.

The intention to sell a flat is, per se, not necessarily a reason to terminate the lease agreement, but if we can establish that with termination of the lease agreement, the owners cannot find a buyer, this should suffice. However, the burden of proof that this is indeed the case lies with the landlord.

This matter may prove difficult. The executor should therefore ask the tenants whether they would be interested to buy the flat or house themselves. If not, the best strategy is usually to simultaneously look for buyers (there may be a potential buyer who does not mind that the flat is leased out) and at the same time start the termination and eviction proceedings.

To find buyers for a German property the owners can either advertise the real estate themselves (the market leader on German internet for this is www.immobilienscout24.de), if the executor or a beneficiary is willing and able to show the flat to potential buyers. The more professional alternative will probably be to hire a local estate agent. The agent’s fees in case of a real estate sale in Germany are usually borne by the buyer. Our firm does assist with finding a reliable and English speaking German estate agent.

(III) Sale of German Property

The selling and transfer of any property in Germany must be effected through a German notary public who acts as a neutral (judge like) legal official ensuring that both parties are being protected (Legal guide to buying a house or apartment in Germany). We will be happy to find a bilingual notary and instruct him / her once we have a buyer. We will also be happy to assess the draft sale agreement and explain the content to you (Template of German Land Sale & Purchase Agreement).

The purchase price is usually paid into the notary’s fiduciary account and is distributed by the notary as soon as the new owner is registered in the Grundbuch (Local Land Registry). The sale deed also resolves any mortgage issues.

(IV) German Inheritance and possibly also Property Sales and Capital Gains Tax

Finally, there is the matter of German taxes. Whether “only” the German assets or the deceased’s global estate is subject to german Inheritance tax depends on the deceased’s nationality and residence at the time of death (The Perils of German IHT and Gift Tax). In addition, selling inherited German real estate may trigger capital gains tax (depending on how long the property had been held by the testator prior to his / her death) as well as property acquisition tax (usually only for the buyer).

– – – –

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.

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

– – – –

Solicitor_SchmeilzlThe 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 matters, including the representation of clients in contentious probate matters.

We also advise and represent foreign clients who wish to purchase, sell or lease property in Germany. In case you would like to obtain specific advice on a specific case or need assistance in buying, selling or leasing property in Germany, please contact German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) at +49 941 463 7070.

English Speaking German Lawyers and Litigators based in Munich

Experienced German Legal Counsel for British and American Clients

Since 2003, the German law firm Graf Partners LLP with its headquarters in Munich specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Not only are the German lawyers at GP fluent in the English language, but they have many years of practical experience gained by working for commercial and private clients from Britain and the USA. From conveyancing of German property, drafting international agreements, representing foreign clients in German courtrooms and preparing expert reports and legal opinions on German law for British and American courts. We know what English and American clients expect from their German legal counsel. We do not simply explain the German law but we focus on the – sometimes very significant – differences, especially when it comes to German civil procedure rules.

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.

While Bernhard is well acquainted with the ways of English solicitors and barristers and their respective ways to go about a case, he is even better equipped to team up with United States attorneys at law. And this is not just from from watching the TV series Suits or Better call Saul (which he does), for that matter. Bernhard has lived, studied, coached baseball and worked in the USA on a number of occasions. His history of extended stays in the United States goes back as far as 1990 and 1993, when George Bush (the father) was President. Bernhard can therefore rely on a network of friends and business partners across the USA, especially in New York and New Jersey as well as in California.

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.

So, if you need a German lawyer who did not just have English in school, but who really speaks your language and knows where you are coming from, contact the experts on German-American and German-British law:

gp-logoa German limited liability partnership of German lawyers admitted to the Munich Bar Association (Rechtsanwaltskammer) with the right to represent clients in all courts of law throughout Germany, registered with the District Court Munich, Partnership Register Nr. 438, represented by its managing partners Bernhard Schmeilzl and Katrin Groll.

Our central switchboard number in Germany is: +49 (0) 941 463 7070

For more information about civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

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

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

Important Facts on German Laws of Succession and German Probate

Download the free brochure provided by the legal experts on international wills, cross border probate and British-German or US-German estate administration

German lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl, LL.M. (Leicester) specialises in British-German and American-German inheritance law ever since his admission to the German bar association in 2001.

cover-brochure-german-probateTogether with his team of British and German succession and probate law experts he has compiled an easy to understand brochure “German Probate” which provides essential information on German inheritance law to British Solicitors and US lawyers as well as executors and administrators who need to deal with assets in Germany or who are faced with having to interpret German Wills. The brochure explains German intestacy rules, formal requirements on how to set up a German Will and the basics of the inheritance tax system. It is available for download here: German-Probate-and-German-Inheritance-Tax.

Some of the legal facts on German law explained in the brochure are:

  • Under German probate law, the estate of the deceased is not administered by a personal representative. Instead, the estate passes directly to the heirs due to the principles of automatic inheritance (Vonselbsterwerb) and universal succession (Gesamtrechtsnachfolge). If there are several heirs, they form a community of heirs (Erbengemeinschaft) and must act unanimously.
  • German heirs are personally liable for all debts of the deceased! In order to avoid personal liability they need to actively renounce their inheritance within 6 weeks of notification (6 months in cross-border cases).
  • Testamentary trusts are rarely used in Germany since they do not offer any advantages like under English law.
  • Post-death variations are not accepted by the German Tax Authorities. In fact, a deed of variation is most likely to be counterproductive as it may trigger additional taxes.
  • Payment of inheritance tax is independent of the application for a German Grant of Probate. However, banks will not release funds to foreign beneficiaries unless the German Tax Authorities have issued a clearance certificate (Unbedenklichkeits-Bescheinigung).
  • Joint wills by spouses in one single document (Ehegattentestamente) and mutually binding testamentary agreements (Erbverträge) are allowed under German probate law and are commonly used.
  • The appointment of an executor in a will is possible but not very common.

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

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

– – – –

Solicitor_SchmeilzlThe 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 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.

What are the German Forced Share Rules?

If German Succession Rules do apply (and this is the case more often than one might think), then the surviving spouse, the children and even the parents of the deceased do inherit a portion of the estate no matter what, i.e. even if the deceased had expressly disinherited them in his Will!

Under German law there exist strict forced share rules (Pflichtteil). In cases where the surviving spouse and/or close relatives, namely descendants or parents, have been disinherited, they are entitled to bring a pecuniary claim against the testamentary heirs. The forced share consists of 50 per cent of the pecuniary value (cash equivalent) the disinherited person would have received had the deceased died intestate, i.e. the share he or she would have been entitled to by statute. Such claims even extend to gifts made by the deceased during the last 10 years of his or her life time.

Again: it is a purely pecuniary claim that may be brought against the testamentary heirs and not a claim to a share of the actual property belonging to the estate. Thus, the better term may actually be “compulsory portion”.

Details about this German forced share and how it is calculated are explained in the post Disinherit your no-good children? Not so easy in Germany and in the free brochure on German Probate and Succession Laws: Download Brochure.

For more information on German-British probate matters and international will preparation see the below posts by the international succession law experts of Graf & Partners LLP:

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

– – – –

Solicitor_SchmeilzlThe 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 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.

How to Access German Assets without having to go through German Probate

There are Practical Alternatives to German Wills

German law provides for a number of legal tools which enable a testator to transfer some or all of his assets outside of the German probate rules, i.e. the transfer will then happen automatically upon the testator’s death. This has many advantages: No need for a will, nor a German grant of probate, i.e. no waiting period and no probate costs.

These tools are “conditional transfers in contemplation of death” (lebzeitige Verfügungen von Todes wegen) and are neither testamentary dispositions nor lifetime gifts. They are an ideal means for British citizens to transfer assets they may hold in Germany since their beneficiaries are not subject to German probate rules. Some of the options available under German inheritance law are:

  • Vertrag zugunsten Dritter auf den Todesfall, i.e. a provision for the benefit of a third party conditional upon the event of death.
  • Transzendentale Vollmacht, i.e. a power of attorney (power of authorisation) valid beyond death. This is a very popular legal instrument often used to avoid the need for German grant of probate.
  • aufschiebend bedingte Verfügungen / Übertragungen, i.e. a transfer of title conditional upon the event of death.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding: These transfers of assets outside of the estate are still subject to German inheritance tax and the German banks will require to see an official tax clearance certificate (more here) before releasing assets located in Germany.

cover-brochure-german-probateFor more information on German Probate, German Compulsary Share Rules and German Inheritance Tax please download our free brochure: German-Probate-and-German-Inheritance-Tax.

Or read the related post “Efficient Transfer of Foreign Assets” and the additional links listed there.

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

– – – –

 

The 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 matters, including the representation of clients in contentious probate matters. We are experts in international 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.

Chasing Debts in Germany

Some Practical Tips from German Litigation Experts GP Chambers LLP

If you are being owed money by a German debtor and this debtor refuses to pay even after having been served a dunning letter from a German lawyer, you will have to obtain a payment order which can then be enforced by a German bailiff (Gerichtsvollzieher) or by the German Court of Execution (Vollstreckungsgericht). Such a payment order is called “Vollstreckungstitel”, or just “Titel”.

To obtain this German “Titel” you can choose between applying for a simple payment order (Mahnbescheid and Vollstreckungsbescheid) which, at least in theory, is quicker and cheaper, but only works if the defendant accepts the claim or remains passive, i.e. does not react to the Mahnbescheid at all. In most cases, therefore, the application for a simple payment order will not be successful and you will only end up losing time and warning the debtor. In the majority of cases, the better approach is to initiate regular court proceedings right away, i.e. to commence a civil law suit before a German District Court, called Amtsgericht (for claims up to EUR 5,000) or a German High Court, called Landgericht, for claims in excess of EUR 5,000.

Solicitor_SchmeilzlSince German Civil Procedure Rules do not stipulate pre-action protocols to be followed, a German civil lawsuit can (and should) be initiated immediately. In fact, you should sue the debtor, before he or she sees the lawsuit coming, because many debtors try to dodge being served official court papers by removing their name from the letter box or even by moving. If, however, you have managed to properly serve the initial statement of claim (Klageschrift) to the defendant, then the defendant is officially notified of the German court action and is an official party to the proceedings. If the defendant then disappears without leaving a forwarding address, the court will issue a default judgement (Versäumnisurteil) against the debtor, which can – like any other German civil court order – be enforced against the debtor for 30 years.

The costs of a German civil law suit are significantly lower compared to the UK, mostly because the German legal system does not have the distinction between solicitors and barristers. Instead, like in the USA, a German lawyer will handle the entire case, in and out of court, and the lawyer will also enforce the payment order.

For more information about civil litigation in Germany see these posts:

– – –

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 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.