German Law: Inheritance and Probate in Germany

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Basic Information in English on German probate and inheritance law.

German inheritance law offers that decedent’s property passes straight to the heirs at the time of death. Under German law the same guideline uses to decedent’s responsibilities. As a result, besides properties you might also acquire debts in Germany. However it is possible to disclaim an inheritance in Germany.
There is no US-style probate in Germany and, normally, there is no court supervised administration of decedent’s estate in Germany. Under German law a will may name an administrator and offer subsequent estate administration, however most wills in Germany do not.

There are no living trusts under German law. Germany is a civil law jurisdiction which does not acknowledge trusts. There will be no trustee taking title to decedent’s assets in Germany.
If you are an heir under German law depends on whether decedent left a will. If there is no will you may be a successor at law under German law of intestate succession. If there is a will, in many cases, you will only be an heir if decedent called you clearly, or implicitly. If you are not an heir under the will, German law provides that you may still be entitled to a forced share of the inheritance, even if decedent meant to exclude you.

How do you discover that you may have made an inheritance in Germany? Anybody who is in possession or control of a will is needed to send it to the Court where decedent was domiciled. The Court will notify you if you are a beneficiary under the will, or a beneficiary at law. Even if there is no will successors frequently need to get letters of inheritance which are required to move title to inherited property in Germany, and generally needed to settle bank accounts and claims in Germany. As soon as the Court receives an application it will alert the heirs at law. If the identity of the successors is not clear the Court might utilize investigators to find and contact possible heirs.
Once you have understanding that you have ended up being an heir at law, or under decedent’s will, you have 6 weeks to disclaim the inheritance, if you have not currently accepted it. Heirs who live abroad, or are abroad at the time of death, gain from a prolonged duration. If you reside in the US you have 6 months to disclaim an inheritance in Germany. Please note that certain acts may imply acceptance of an inheritance under German law. If you accept an inheritance in Germany you may be personally liable for decedent’s financial obligations with your own assets.

Most likely, you will deal with inheritance tax liability in Germany. Germany, unlike the US, does not tax the estate. Each heir and each beneficiary is taxed individually. Tax rates and exemptions vary. They depend upon the degree of kinship and the quantity acquired. You will have to submit an inheritance tax return in Germany.


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