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Important Facts on German Laws of Succession and German Probate

All you need to know about German inheritance law and probate proceedings

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. Together 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.


Brochure on German Probate and Succession

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.

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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.