Doing nothing can make you liable for your dead German relative’s debts
In most cases it is considered rather good news to inherit an estate. However, if the deceased was heavily indebted it may be a different story. This is especially dangerous in Germany due to the principle of universal succession, according to which the heir receives the estate automatically (details here).
What needs to be done to renounce a German inheritance?
The heir must actively declare to the regionally competent German probate court that he/she renounces the inheritance. The procedural rules are expalined in detail here.
The wording of this declaration (Ausschlagung der Erbschaft) will be somewhat like this (in reality is must be in German of course):
Re: Declaration of Renouncement of Inheritance:
Mr (Mrs) … died on the … in …. His (her) last place of residence was in (address). I, the undersigned, …, born … resident at … hereby without any preconditions do renounce my inheritance after the late … This renouncement shall cover any and all legal grounds according to which I may be considered an heir. I am fully aware that this renouncement of the inheritance is irrevocable. I received infornation abouth the death of the late … and my position as heir on …
Place, date, signature
The heir should be careful what date he/she communicates in regard to when exactly he/she has received knowledge of the death of the legator, because according to German law an heir may declare the renouncement of succession only within a period within six weeks. However, if the heir lives outside of Germany this statutory period is six months. The clock is ticking after the heir has received knowledge about the case of succession (Section 1945 German Civil Code).
The signature on the declaration has to be certified. The declaration of renouncement may be executed either directly before a probate court official, any German notary or – if the heir lives in the UK – before a German consular officer (at a German embassy) or an honorary consul. Then the declaration needs to be sent to the locally competent German probate court (in most cases the probate court at the city where the legator had his last place of residence).
Please note that if someone who has children renounces inheritance, then these children will be next in line, i.e. they will inherit in lieu of the parent. Since this result is, of course, unwanted, the children will also have to renounce the heirship. If the child has not yet reached the age of 18, both parents must act on behalf of their minor children and declare the renouncement of succession on behalf of their child.
At the same time I hereby also renounce, as the legal guardian together with my undersigned spouse, the inheritance on behalf of my underage child (children): …
The details may be tricky, however, and in some constellations the parents will need to obtain consent from German court of protection.
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:
- Most Germans die without a Will (German Intestacy Rules)
- Formal Requirements to set up a valid Will in England, Scotland and Germany: What are the Differences?
- The Perils of German IHT and Gift Tax
- Careful with Deed of Variation if Estate comprises Foreign Assets
- Basics of German Inheritance and Succession Law
- Executors and Trustees in German Inheritance Law
- How to apply for a German Grant of Probate
- The Infamous German Community of Heirs – And how to avoid it
- Germans Heirs are Personally Liable for Debts of the Deceased
- International Wills and Estate Planning for British-German Families
- Prove German Wills for English Probate
- Disputed Wills and Contentious Probate in Germany
- Disinherit your no-good children? Not so easy in Germany
- Don’t be afraid of Clients with Foreign Assets!
- Can foreign Taxes be set off against UK Inheritance Tax?
Or simply click on the “German Probate” section in the right column of this blog.
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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 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.