How to deal with Estates in Austria

Probate Proceedings in Austria are very different from those in Germany

If a decedent who was not resident in Austria owned any assets in Austria at the time of his or her death, this Austrian Estate can only be accessed after going through formal Austrian Probate.

Neither an English Grant of Probate nor a German Certificate of Inheritance will enable the executors or beneficiaries to access the Austrian assets, because Austrian banks, brokers, insurance companies and other institutions will ask for a Grant of Probate (“Einantwortungsbeschluss”) issued by the comptenent Austrian Probate Court. In fact, the situation in Austria is considerably more complicated and costly compared to Probate proceedings in Germany or in the United Kingdom. This is due to the fact that Austrian Probate Courts take a much more active role in the administration of an Austrian estate. This generates significant and sometimes unavoidable probate court costs.

Now, what needs to be done if there are Austrian assets?

Under Austrian law, the following rules apply to estates in Austria of persons resident abroad at the time of their death:

Upon the testator´s death, the estate falls to the jurisdiction of the Austrian Probate Court (Verlassenschaftsgericht). The decedent’s assets in Austria are automatically sequestered, i.e. only persons authorised by the Austrian Probate Court (Verlassenschaftsgericht) can deal with them. In contrast to Germany, Austria does not accept any trans-mortal powers of attorney, i.e. any powers of attorney given by the deceased authorising third parties to operate his/her bank accounts or stocks dossiers etc expire on the decedent’s death.

Which local probate registry shall have jurisdiction is determined by whether the decedent owned real estate (immoveables) in Austria or, if not, where the majority of the moveable assets are (e.g. bank accounts).

The Austrian Probate Court will request the following documents (originals or certified copies) to be submitted:

  1. the death certificate
  2. official proof of the testator´s nationality at the time of death, unless this fact is stated in the death certificate,
  3. the documents required to establish the hereditary succession, i.e. the will, birth certificate, marriage certificate etc.

If the decedent was a foreign (i.e. non Austrian) national on the day of death, and if agreements on mutual equal treatment exist between his/her country of origin and Austria, the probate proceedings will be conducted by the competent courts or other authorities of the decedent’s country of origin on the day of his/her death provided that the assets representing the estate are movable property only. In these cases, simplified court proceedings are available, known as the delivery procedure. (“Ausfolgungsverfahren”). More on this re-sealing procedure in this post.

Such delivery procedure only requires a decree issued by the competent foreign court regarding the beneficiary entitlement to the inheritance (i.e. names of the entitled persons or of the executor) to be submitted to the Austrian court together with the additional documents listed above.

If the beneficiaries or executors are resident outside Austria, it is usually necessary to entrust the probate or delivery proceedings to either an Austrian Notary Public or to a German speaking probate lawyer.

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The German-British probate expert Bernhard Schmeilzl specialises in international wills and estate planning for British-German and British-Austrian families since 2001. He knows the typical problems that arise when an English will lands on the desk of a German or Austrian probate registrar or vice versa. Most succession lawyers only know the rules and practical operations of their own jurisdiction. The probate experts at Graf & Partners, however, apply for hundreds of grants each year in England, Germany and Austria, acting either as probate lawyers for personal representatives or acting as executors themselves.

These combined 20+ years of practical experience in non-contentious as well as contentious probate matters in Germany, Austria and the UK make the lawyers of Graf & Partners sought-after lecturers and speakers.

German solicitor Schmeilzl regularly conducts legal seminars and practical workshops on international wills and estate planning as well as on how to obtain probate in Germany, Austria and England. Popular topics for such inhouse seminars for British and German law firms are:

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. 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.

Google Analytics vs. GDPR – is that even possible?

We are currently receiving many inquiries from uncertain clients regarding the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). During an initial analysis of the homepage, it immediately becomes apparent that most clients use an analysis tool – mostly Google Analytics or Matomo (formerly Piwik). Such tools are useful and indispensable for good online marketing.

But now the question arises: to what extent can these tools still be used to be compliant with the GDPR?

Admittedly, we believe that the GDPR and in particular the German implementation of this has gone far beyond the target. This creates enormous uncertainty in most companies and regular business operations are hardly possible without fear of violating any GDPR standard. But back to the actual topic: Is the tracking of user data of a website still permissible from the point of view of the basic data protection regulation?

Basically no! At least not without a few special adjustments. This is also confirmed by the position of the Conference of Independent Data Protection Authorities of the Federal Government. The statement of the German authorities can be found here:

https://www.ldi.nrw.de/mainmenu_Datenschutz/submenu_Technik/Inhalt/TechnikundOrganisation/Inhalt/Zur-Anwendbarkeit-des-TMG-fuer-nicht-oeffentliche-Stellen-ab-dem-25_-Mai-2018/Positionsbestimmung-TMG.pdf

But now to the real thing: How did I implement Google Analytics in compliance with the law? This requires a look at the provisions in accordance with Art. 6 para. 1 lit. f GDPR. You should therefore follow these steps:

  1. sign a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) with Google. You can find this contract here: 

     http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.de/de/de/analytics/terms/de.pdf

  2. accept the addendum for data processing with Google. You may have wondered what the “Data Processing Supplement” option in your Google Analytics account settings is for. This is appropriate here for GDPR. Once you enable this feature, your site visitors’ interests will be protected. It is also important that you enter the following information manually:
    1. The person responsible (i.e. the legal person responsible for data processing),
    2. A contact (i.e. a person/contact to whom the communications relating to the data processing conditions can be sent,
    3. a data protection officer (if to be appointed),
    4. an EEA Representative (but this is only important for companies that are not in the European Union).

3.  install an easy way for your website users to opt-out.

You can use the following two Java scripts:

first, implement the JavaScript alert:

<a onclick=”alert(‘Google Analytics has been disabled);” href=”javascript:gaOptout()”>deactivate Google Analytics</a>

For the upper code to work, the following code must be installed globally on the website:

<img src=”data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBR AA7″ data-wp- preserve=”%3Cscript%20type%3D%22text%2Fjavascript%22%3E%0A%2F%2F%20Set%20to%20th e%20same%20value%20as%20the%20web%20property%20used%20on%20the%20site%0Avar%2 0gaProperty%20%3D%20’UA-XXXX- Y’%3B%0A%0A%2F%2F%20Disable%20tracking%20if%20the%20opt- out%20cookie%20exists.%0Avar%20disableStr%20%3D%20’ga-disable- ‘%20%2B%20gaProperty%3B%0Aif%20(document.cookie.indexOf(disableStr%20%2B%20’%3Dtrue ‘)%20%3E%20- 1)%20%7B%0A%20%20window%5BdisableStr%5D%20%3D%20true%3B%0A%7D%0A%0A%2F%2F %20Opt- out%20function%0Afunction%20gaOptout()%20%7B%0A%20%20document.cookie%20%3D%20di sableStr%20%2B%20’%3Dtrue%3B%20expires%3DThu%2C%2031%20Dec%202099%2023%3A59% 3A59%20UTC%3B%20path%3D%2F’%3B%0A%20%20window%5BdisableStr%5D%20%3D%20true %3B%0A%7D%0A%3C%2Fscript%3E” data-mce-resize=”false” data-mce-placeholder=”1″ class=”mce-object” width=”20″ height=”20″ alt=”&lt;script&gt;” title=”&lt;script&gt;” />

  1. implement IP anonymization – this will nullify the last two blocks of the IP (e.g. 108.138.0.0) so that it is no longer possible to identify the respective website visitor;
  2. integrate a data protection declaration in accordance with the law within the meaning of Art. 12, 13 GDPR;
  3. don’t activate the user ID.

We hope that with this short explanation we could take away the horror of the GDPR in relation to Google Analytics (as well as further analysis tools).

If you have any questions about GDPR, do not hesitate to contact German lawyer Stephan Hendel who specialises in data protection and IT law. Having a Canadian family background, Stephan is fluent in English and is well aware of the different business mentalities of Anglo-American as well as German entrepreneurs. Our German and international clients appreciate Stephan’s pragmatic hands on approach.

Within the Cross-Channel-Lawyer network, Stephan is the expert for all legal matters surrounding IT, cyber law, data protection issues and compliance with German law.

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

Data Protection and German Businesses: New GDPR 2018 will cause a Flood of Lawsuits

Company Managers and British Parent Companies of German Subsidiaries better take this issue very seriously, because the German version of the GDPR is much stricter than the GDPR rules as applied in the UK.

So if you are running a business in Germany, you should ensure that your German company is in full compliance. For instance in accounting and human resources. Because the German business mentality is to torture competitors with costly cease and desist letters (more here).

Germans are Data Protection Extremists

When it comes to data protection in a company, it is often overlooked that sensitive personal data is also processed in areas that do not immediately spring to mind, like accounting for instance. While other legal regulations in accounting prescribe processing or long-term storage, this is usually not the case in controlling.

With regard to the requirements of the EU Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in particular with regard to all data processing in accounting and controlling should be checked and, if necessary, adjusted. An adaptation could be achieved, for example, by pseudonymization (removal of all directly identifiable features) or anonymization (removal of all personal data).

These are presented as examples in this article:

(1) Data protection for personal data

The data protection regulations apply when personal data is processed. This means (according to Art. 4 para. 1 GDPR) all information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (…). In accounting, such data is regularly found in Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable. If the accounting department also takes over the data management of the employees and carries out payroll accounting, “special categories of personal data” are even processed.

(2) Sensitive data due to processing or quantity

However, even if no data of employees is processed in accounting or controlling, personal data may still be available there, which can have an impact on those affected if they are viewed by unauthorized persons. This is obvious, for example, for notes on (negative) payment behavior (creditworthiness index).

Sometimes the context (the accompanying circumstances) of the processing is also sufficient, even if no financial or health data is stored for it. As very descriptive examples these would be e.g. the debtor evaluation of a specialist with the special field for cosmetic operations or in addition, the customer file of an erotic dispatch.

(3) Risks in practice

In accounting it is often the case that personal data is exported, e.g. for various evaluations from the hopefully well secured accounting programs. Often these “Excel files” are then sent by e-mail without further protection. Even if this alone often violates data protection regulations, it also increases the risk that third parties can view the data. In the case of e-mails, for example, an inadvertently wrong recipient is sufficient.

(4) Pseudonymization: identification via detours possible

Apart from a secure form of transmission, pseudonymisation offers a further advantage.

possibility of reducing the risk of data misuse for those affected. For this purpose, all personal data are essentially removed – with the exception of one value – that enable a person to be clearly identified. The remaining data may not directly identify the person concerned. Only by consulting another file or another document may the person be identifiable.

(5) Conclusion

Pseudonymisation and anonymisation offer two suitable ways of reducing data protection risks. Particularly with regard to evaluations, it is worth checking to pseudonymize short-term evaluations, for which detailed checks may still be necessary, and then to summarize and further process this data anonymously after a specified time interval.

If you have any questions about GDPR, do not hesitate to contact German lawyer Stephan Hendel who specialises in data protection and IT law. Having a Canadian family background, Stephan is fluent in English and is well aware of the different business mentalities of Anglo-American as well as German entrepreneurs. Our German and international clients appreciate Stephan’s pragmatic hands on approach.

Within the Cross-Channel-Lawyer network, Stephan is the expert for all legal matters surrounding IT, cyber law, data protection issues and compliance with German law.

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

We have no “Mike Wright” – Fraudsters use our firm’s name

Sooner or later, every international law firm faces the problem of their name being used for spam mails or fraud attempts. Currently, i.e. April 2018, it seems to be our turn. Some idiots have sent out thousands of emails claiming to be “Grafpartners-Solicitors”. These spam emails look like this and come with an attachment:

Please do not open the attachment and also do not respond to them, since we have nothing to do with this. While there are a few “real” solicitors by the name of Michael (or Mike) Wright out there, there is no Graf & Partner solicitor by that name. Nor is this our real domain or email address. Unfortunately, these days, there is not much one can do against such online fraudsters.

If in doubt whether an email was indeed sent by us, you are welcome to call our office to verify.

Post-Contractual Non-Compete Clauses in German Employment Agreements

… and how to get rid of them

Many employers want to prevent their employees to work for competitors when the employment ends. Under German labor law, this can be achieved by putting a post-contractual non-compete clause (nachvertragliches Wettbewerbsverbot) in the employment contract. The typical standard wording for such a non compete clause would be this:

The Employee shall not, for a period of 24 months following the end of the employment and within the territory ….., directly or indirectly, with or without remuneration, render services for a competing enterprise either as managing director, employee, or consultant, which are essentially similar to the services which the Employee has rendered to the Employer during the 24 months prior to the termination of the employment. The Employee may not establish any participation in a competing enterprise either, if such participation exceeds 5 % of the capital of such enterprise or enter into competition with the Employer as being self-employed. Competing enterprises are considered those which supply ………

Under German law, there are strict limits on how far an employer can go with such a non-compete obligation because the employee shall not be unreasonably restricted in finding a new job. Therefore, the maximum period is 24 months. If the non-compete period contained in the employment agreement is longer, the entire clause will be considered excessive and thus void. Also, the territory to which the non-compete obligation applies should be limited to what is absolutely necessary to protect the employers business interests. Defining the territory as “all of Germany” or “the European Union” or even “all over the world”, is extremely dangerous and probably also unnecessary.

Also, and this is often completely overlooked or even knowingly ignored by US or British employers, any such post-contractual non-compete obligation of a (former) employee is only binding and enforceable, if the employer pays the employee a financial compensation, the so called “Karenzentschädigung“.

This compensation must be paid during the entire non-compete period and must amount to at least 50% of the latest salary of the employee (including any bonus payments and gratuities).

A typical wording for this section of the employment agreement would thus be:

During the non-compete period the Employer shall pay to the Employee a compensation of … , i.e. 50% of the Employee’s last contractual salary. The statutory legal provisions, in particular secs. 74 et seq. HGB (German Commercial Code) shall apply.

In order to give the non-compete clause teeth, i.e. make the employee care about any breach, the contract should contain a penalty clause. Here, again, there are limits on what an employer can put in the contract and still expect it to be enforced by German courts.

What if the employer changes his mind about the non-compete clause?

Sometimes an employer no longer sees the need to bind an employee by a post contractual non-compete clause. Either because he does not feel that the employee could hurt him by working for a competitor. Or because he simply does not want to pay the Karenzentschädigung.

In such a case, there are two ways to go about this:

(i) The employer can waive the rights resulting from this clause (“auf das Wettbewerbsverbot verzichten”). This must be done in writing and BEFORE the employment has ended. However, the bad news is that the waiver does not come into effect with immediate effect. Instead, the non-compete clause stands for another 12 months. In other words: If the employer notifies the employee (in writing) that the employer no longer wishes the non-compete obligation to apply, this waiver only becomes valid after 12 months have expired. This means that if a contract contains a 24 month non-compete period and the employer declares to waive sied clause immediately before he terminates the employment, then the non-compete period is effectively reduced  from 24 to 12 months, but the employer does not get rid of it entirely.

Another example: If the employer notifies the employee in January 2018 that he waives the non-compete clause and then terminates the employment 12 months later, then the employer does not have to pay any Karenzentschädigung.

(ii) The other option is that both parties amicably agree to lift the non-compete clause. The employee will of course only agree to this if he or she has already received an interesting job offer that he or she would otherwise be prevented from accepting due to the non-compete clause.

More on German Labour Law, Employment Agreements, Contract Drafting and Employment related Litigation in Germany is available in the posts below and in the brochure “Living and Working in Europe

 

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.

If your Parent or Child passes away while having been resident in Germany…

… then German Succession Rules do apply to the Estate!

Since August 2015, all EU members (except for UK, Ireland and Denmark) apply the same basic rule: The national succession laws of that country shall apply in which the decedent had his or her last habitual residence (EU Succession Regulation, EU 650/2012).

Thus, if your parent or your child has been permanently living in – for instance – Germany, France or Spain and sadly dies while having been resident there, then the national succession rules of Germany, France or Spain will govern the administration of the entire estate as well as the formal probate proceedings.

This can create some surprising results for everyone involved. Intestacy rules, for example, vary from country to country. And, even more astonishing for English relatives and their lawyers, many European countries know a concept of “forced inheritance” or “statutory share rules”.

Under French law, a fixed proportion of the estate (of at least one half) is inherited by the child or children of the deceased, irrespective of the testator’s wishes as expressed in his or her will (“forced inheritance”). In Germany, the situation is similar: the surviving spouse, children and even the parents of the deceased are entitled to make a significant financial claim against the heir(s), the so called Pflichtteilsanspruch (details here).

Not every British or Irish national who lives in Germany (or France etc) is aware of this. And even if they are aware, then some of these national succession laws are mandatory and indispensable. Thus the term “forced inheritance”. For the surviving spouses, children or parents of a British or Irish national who passed away in Europe, this means that they may be entitled to an interest in the estate even if they were disinherited. In other words: German or French succession laws grant the close relatives certain rights they would not expect to have under English laws.

There are, however, also unpleasant surprises and risks: Under German as well as French laws, for instance, the heirs inherit their share of the property of the deceased directly on death and also assume personal responsibility for the debts of the deceased (even if they are at first unaware of such debts) and the tax on inheritance.

In all international inheritance cases, the relatives of the deceased should thus obtain information on the local succession laws and probate rules to avoid risks of personal liability and to find out whether they are entitled to a forced inheritance.

For more information on probate as well as gift & inheritance tax in Germany, Austria and Switzerland 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 was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German probate matters. 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.

This is what a Swiss Grant of Probate really looks like

Sample Certificate of Inheritance issued by Switzerland Probate Court (Zurich)

We, the German-British law firm Graf & Partners, specialise in international probate matters as well as estate planning in all German speaking countries, i.e. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Thus, we are often approached by clients who need to apply for a grant of probate in these countries. Also, we are sometimes approached by clients who fell for an online inheritance scam.

In order to give you an idea what an authentic Swiss Certificate of Inheritance (Erbschein Schweiz) looks like, we post this real life example of such an Erbschein issued by the Swiss District Court of Zurich:

For more information on probate as well as gift & inheritance tax in Germany, Austria and Switzerland 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.

– – –

seminar_lyndalesIn case you need specific advice in a concrete case or assistance in German probate procedures, feel free to contact the lawyers of the German firm Graf & Partners which are specialized in British-German succession issues. Attorney Bernhard Schmeilzl has years of experience acting as executor and administrator of estates, both in the UK and in Germany. He is an expert in international succesion law and gives lectures and seminars for UK probate solicitors and UK accountants who advise clients with foreign assets.

– – –

 

The law firm Graf & Partners was established in 2003 and has many years of experience with British-German and US-German probate matters. 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.

“I want to make a Gift to my Child in Germany…”

… but my son-in-law / daughter-in-law shall not benefit from such a gift or inheritance! Is that possible under German law?

Yes, it certainly is possible. Spouses are sometimes under the impression that they have an automatic entitlement to any gift the other spouse receives, whether as a lifetime gift or as an inheritance. Simply by virtue of the fact they are married. Under German law, this is certainly not the case.

Unless the spouses in Germany have entered into a specific marital property regime by way of an Ehevertrag, i.e. a marriage agreement (which is only possible in notarial form under German law), they find themselves under the statutory property regime (gesetzlicher Güterstand) of Zugewinngemeinschaft (community of acccrued gains). In spite of the somewhat misleading word “community” (Gemeinschaft), this does NOT mean, however, that everything that is gained by one spouse during marriage automatically also belongs to the other spouse. Instead, quite to the contrary, each spouse owns their own assets. Marriage per se, under German family law rules, changes nothing with regards to who owns what.

Therefore, unless the spouses decide to handle this differently (for example by paying everything into a joint bank account) the respective estates of the spouses remain separate. The meaning of “accrued gains” means that upon divorce (and only upon divorce), there is a (rather complicated) split of the accrued gains. However, even then, gifts are usually NOT relevant for such a split.

In short: Gifts (lifetime or testamentary) made by a British parent to their child being resident in Germany belong to the child and to the child only, unless the child voluntarily transfers the gift onto his or her spouse. If the British donor whishes to prevent such – from the donor’s perspective stupid – behaviour, the gift must be made in a more formal manner, i.e. the gift would have to come with legal strings attached. German law provides for such “protected gifts”.

Beware of German Gift Tax and Inheritance Tax

When you consider making a gift to your son ordaughter while they are resident in Germany, you must also consider that such a gift will trigger German gift tax, because the donee lives in Germany and is thus subject to the german Gift Tax and Inheritance Tax Code. We have expplained the implications of all that in these posts:

The Perils of German Inheritance Tax and Gift Tax

Everything about German Inheritance & Gift Tax at one Glance

Most Germans die without a Will

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:

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. 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 deposit a Will in Germany

If you live in Germany or have significant assets there you should consider making a separate last will with regard to those German assets. If you do so, the question arises where to store the will. In case you opted for a so called public will (i.e. a will recorded before a German notary), an official copy of your German will is automatically sent to the central registry. So there is no risk of the will being misplaced or destroyed.

If, however, you opt for a holographic (i.e. handwritten) will or if you wish to include your German assets in your English will, you can — and probably should — deposit said will with the German Probate Registry (Nachlassgericht) at the German town where you live. This not only protects your will against any fould play but also speeds up German probate proceedings later on. Of course, you can at any time withdraw your will from safekeeping in case you change your mind about the content of the will.

How much does it cost to deposit a will or codicil?

There is a one-off charge to deposit a will or codicil which depends on the value of your estate. Usually between EUR 80 and EUR 200. So be prepared for the court official to ask you about the value of your German estate (a rough estimate is sufficient).

In order to avoid unpleasant surprises or probate problems, British expats living in Germany should definitely have their last will checked by an international succession law expert. English solicitors are rarely willing to consider foreign law implications (for some examples how English wills can lead to catastrophic results outside the UK see here).

If you wish to instruct Graf & Partners LLP to draft a Will or to team up with a foreign lawyer to advise in specific areas of German or Austrian law, please feel free to complete the questionnaire and contact our German succession and probate law experts. Lawyers can create a tailor-made Last Will only if they are fully informed about the testator’s personal situation and his/her objectives. In order to draw up a Last Will that fully meets the clients individual requirements, Graf Partner LLP uses a comprehensive questionnaire and Will preparation checklist (available for download here).  This checklist also helps to facilitate an effective and individual preparation for the personal meeting at the firm.

German solicitor Bernhard Schmeilzl also conducts inhouse seminars for British and American lawyers and accountants who advise clients with foreign assets or who have family abroad. More on these seminars here: Advising Clients with Assets Abroad

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.

– – – –

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. 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.

 

Harsh “Unfair Competition” Rules in Germany

The German Habit of sending out Cease and Desist Letters to Competitors

When you start trading in Germany you may be in for unpleasant surprises. The first letter your German subsidiary receives may likely be a formal cease and desist notice sent by your competitor’s lawyers. Why? Because under German unfair competition laws, every business has the right to formally demand competitors to fully comply with any and all German laws. And there are many such laws and regulations, some of which a British entrepreneur or even a British lawyer would never expect to exist.

Thus, everyone who considers starting business activities in Germany should read the German Act Against Unfair Competition (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb, UWG). Read it, shake your head, then read it again.

Some examples:

  • Every website and all stationary (letters, emails etc) must quote the complete business details including full business address, commercial register number, name(s) of director(s) and more. For details see section 5 UWG on incomplete information about a business trading in Germany.
  • Your website must have a so called “Impressum” which contains all relevant company information. Pursuant to section 5 Telemediengesetz the customer must be able to find the entire information about the offering company “easily” and “quickly”.
  • Websites must comply with German consumer protection laws and data protection laws; sounds harmless but the requirements are so complex that even most German companies are in breach of some aspects of these regulations.
  • Advertising material must specify its publisher.
  • All information on websites and advertising material must be truthful. You think that is understood and no problem? Well, here is an example for a typical mistake: We often represent British businesses which establish a German subsidiary and then make advertising statements like “25 years of experience” because the British parent company has been doing business for 25 years and they think they are allowed to make such statements for the entire group. They are not! Two weeks later, the German subisiary (a newly formed GmbH) is being served a number of cease and desist letters by German lawyers demanding to stop making this false and misleading statement, because the German subsidiary (which has made that statement in their ads) does not have 25 years of experience.
  • Another classic mistake is making an incorrect or incomplete price quotation on a website or on any advertisement material. Any mentioning of a price must clearly specify the final amount, the German VAT and any information about delivery costs. If not, this constitutes an infringement of section 1 II Preisangabenverordnung (PAngV) and in turn an infringement of the competition regulations (sections 3 and 3a UWG). Again you may think: How hard can this be? Well, take a look for yourself. It tells you a lot about German law that the regulation about how prices for goods and services must be presented is 8 pages long, see here.

Why are German Competitors (and their Lawyers) so aggressive?

These cease and desist letters (Aufforderung zur Abgabe einer strafbewehrten Unterlassungserklärung) are more than a mere nuisance because it is a peculiarity under German law that the recipient of such a lawyer’s letter must bear the competitor’s lawyers legal fees. Without any prior warning! The first letter you receive already triggers costs for you. Depending on the concrete breach these costs range from a few hundred to a few thousand Euros. And if you are unlucky, you will receive cease and desist letters from various german competitors with regard to the same breach.

Thus, German business lawyers are very interested in representing German businesses in that field, because with each such cease and desist letter they stand a good chance of earning a few thousand Euros. Their clients, your German competitors, are also keen of sending out such cease and desist letters, because it makes life difficult and expensive for new competing businesses, Ideally, this is a way for an established German business to prevent the market entry by a new company.

Do not ignore Cease and Desist Letters!

We note that British clients doing business in Germany tend to ignore such letters from competitor’s lawyers. This is a big and costly mistake, because if you to not acknowledge the breach and make a formal promise to the competitor to remedy the breach, then the competitor has the right to immediately sue your company. The competitor will apply to a German court by way of an Unterlassungsklage (action for an injunction). In most cases, the claimant will apply for an accelerated proceeding and ask for a preliminary injunction (einstweilige Unterlassungsverfügung), which – in obvious cases or if the British defendant does not properly respond – is usually granted by the German courts.

Then it becomes really dangerous, because if your company continues the breach (e.g. the website still infringes German laws or regulations) then very harsh penalties kick in. Depending on the size of your business (turnover in Germany), the number and duration of the breaches and other factors, the German court may order your company to pay a penalty (Ordnungsgeld) of up to 250,000 Euro.

Thus, in case you have been served an Unterlassungsaufforderung (cease and desist letter), you should immediately remedy the breach, then contact a German business lawyer and discuss what your options are. In most cases, if you have actually been in breach of German laws or regulations, you will have to (teeth-grindingly) acknowledge this breach (by sending them an Unterlassungserklärung) and to pay the opponent’s legal fees. In most cases, however, there is a chance to negogiate about the other side’s legal fees.

Such a formal acknowledgement (strafbewehrte Unterlassungserklärung) prevents the competitor from suing you. However, such an acknowledgment letter is only valid if it contains a promise to pay a contractual fine (Vertragsstrafeversprechen) in case you breach the same regulation again. Without such a promise to pay a fine the acknowledgement letter is worthless and you still rund the risk of being sued.

We certainly hope that we have not killed your desire to start trading in Germany. However, when you take up business activities in Germany, you should expect to be closely monitored by your German competitors. Thus, do not give them a chance to torture you with costly cease and desist letters.

By the way: It is not just competitors who may be observing you. German consumer protection groups (Verbraucherschutzorganisationen) also have the right to send out cease and desist notices.

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

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

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.