Careful with M&A Asset Deals in Germany

Pitfalls of German Contract Law (Part 3):  Many Asset Deal Purchase Agreements must be in Notarial Form to be Valid in Germany

German Law requires certain transactions to be recorded before a Civil Law Notary in order for these agreements to be valid and enforceable. The list ranges from pre-nuptial and marriage agreements, to any real estate related transaction, to the formation of German companies and stock corporations.

One aspect is, however, sometimes overlooked even by German corporate lawyers. Namely, the fact that even assets deals may have to be recorded before a German notary if the selling party in this M&A asset deal transfers its entire business operation (Geschäftsbetrieb) or a defined branch of its business, i.e. an entire sector of the business operation (Teilgeschäftsbetrieb).

The relevant statute is sec. 311 b para. 3 German Civil Code which states:

Section 311b BGB:

Contracts on plots of land, assets and an estate

(1) A contract by which one party agrees to transfer or acquire ownership of a plot of land must be recorded by a notary. A contract not entered into in this form becomes valid with all its contents if a declaration of conveyance and registration in the Land Register are effected.

(2) A contract by which one party agrees to transfer his future property or a fraction of his future property or to charge it with a usufruct is void.

(3) A contract by which one party agrees to transfer his present property or a fraction of his present property or to charge it with a usufruct must be recorded by a notary.

 

If, therefore a German company (GmbH) or corporation (AG) sells its assets and the agreement contains – which is often the case – a so called “catch all assets clause”, then the entire agreement must be recorded by a German Civil Law Notary, even if the assets do not consist of real estate (plots of land etc).

The statute does, however, usually not apply if the seller is a sole trader oder a partnership, i.e. a German Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Recht (GBR), a German Offene Handelsgesellschaft (OHG) or a German Kommanditgesellsachaft (KG), but the details are tricky.

If this formal requirement of German law is not observed in a German M&A assed deal, the entire agreement is null and void (nichtig) which may be found out even many years later. In which case, obviously, all hell breaks loose. This aspect should therefore not be taken lightly.

If the parties wish to avoid the involvement of a German Notary in the transaction, they can either do without a catch all clause or they can agree on English or US law to apply to the asset deal which may, however, create other legal problems. Please note that if the deal includes the transfer of German real property (immoveables in Germany), then the involvement of a German notary is necessary no matter what. The same is true if the shares of a German Limited Liability Company are to be sold and transferred.

For more on German business and corporate law see these posts:

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Experts on German-British and German-American Legal Matters

Since 2003, the German business and corporate law firm Graf Partners LLP specialises in British-German and US-German legal cases. Our German business and corporate lawyers are native speaker level 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.

Managing partner Bernhard Schmeilzl was admitted as German Rechtsanwalt (attorney at law) to the Munich Bar in 2001 and specialises in international cases ever since, with a focus on German-American and German-English commercial, corporate and also 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.

Starting a New Business in the UK

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Are you thinking about establishing a business in the UK? Where do you start? This note will give you a brief understanding of the Companies Act 2006 and what you need to know in order to set up a business in the UK. The Companies Act 2006 provides for three types of companies to be established:

  1. Company limited by shares;
  2. Company limited by guarantee; and
  3. Unlimited Company.

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When starting a Business in Germany: Don’t Forget the Trade Register Notification (Gewerbeanmeldung)

Under German law (see section 14 Gewerbeordnung, i.e. German Trade Regulation), the commencement of a business activity must be notified in writing (Gewerbeanmeldung) to the local Ordnungsamt (Trades Office), which is a department of the municipal government, for example the city of Munich. This notification obligation also applies to any change in the business (e.g. move, modification to the nature of the business or staff recruitment) and to the termination of the trade activity, which requires a termination notification (Gewerbeabmeldung). More information on the various options in terms of how to start a business in Germany is available here. For an overview of German company forms see here. Continue reading

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In this issue of „London Business Matters“, the London Chamber of Commerce’s monthly magazine, German corporate and business lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl has compiled 10 Top Tips when starting a Business in Germany”. The magazine also contains helpful information about the trading relations between the UK and Germany. Just browse the online issue. For more details on how to establish a business in Germany please see the articles below

– 3 Ways to expand your Business to Germany
– What is a German “Mini-GmbH” or “Unternehmergesellschaft”?
– 10 Things to do when starting a German Business
– Guide for doing Business in Germany

 

The law firm Graf & Partners (Germany) assists entrepreneurs and businesses with their international expansion to Germany since 2003. Also, we have a network of professionals in the areas tax, IT, marketing and business consulting. Do not hesitate to contact us by calling solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl at +49 941 785 3053 or send an email to: mail [at] grafpartner.com

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Establish a real German Company, register a Branch Office or start with a mere Representative Office

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Fiduciary, Trustee and Escrow Services in Germany

To start or expand a business in Germany an existing enterprise can: (i) either trade directly from the UK; (ii) use a German partner as agent or distributor; (iii) set up a branch office in Germany or (iv) establish a separate legal entity for the German activities, which makes good sense when one wants to separate the risks of the specific German business. The best choice for option (iv) will in most cases be a German GmbH, the equivalent to a Private Limited Company, because such GmbH will have better standing with banks, suppliers and customers than a foreign company form. More information on the nature of a GmbH and the formation procedure here.

Many small or mid sized businesses do not want to hire a large number of employees (especially with the very strict German employee protection laws) or create much overhead costs until they know that the business will actually gain a foothold in the German market. Still, it has many advantages to be actually present with a German company on German territory, i.e. have a German business address and German speaking contact persons, since this creates trust with (potential) clients and business partners. Continue reading