German Inheritance Law

December 13, 2017 by

German Inheritance Law is a complicated beast. The requirements for drafting a valid German will are quite archaic and the process for claiming rights to the estate of a deceased person is very different from  anglo-american probate or administration process.

Our English speaking German lawyers can help you settle your estate in Germany. We also help you draft wills across different jurisdiction.

Probate in Germany

Unlike in New Zealand or Australia, the estate of the deceased does not pass to the executor or administrator. Instead, heirs will automatically become universal successors to the decedent’s estate by assuming personal liability for the deceased’s taxes, debts, liabilities and any claims of third parties against the deceased or the estate etc.

As the heirs are liable to the debts of the decedent, they may wish to disclaim an inheritance in situations where the estate is indebted. There are strict time limits in place for disclaiming a German inheritance (Erbschaftsausschlagung). 

German inheritance law requires that a disclaimer is authorised by a German court of probate, a German notary or a German embassy.

The heirs are responsible for determining whether an inheritance is worth accepting or not. Certain acts (e.g. disposition of estate assets or application for a certificate of inheritance) may imply acceptance even before the disclaimer period expires (between 6 weeks and 6 months depending on the circumstances).

A German inheritance may only be accepted or disclaimed in its entirety.

German certificate of inheritance

Heirs need to apply for a certificate of inheritance (Erbschein) or certification of executorship (Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis) with the court of probate (Nachlassgericht). An application for a certificate of inheritance must be filed with the competent probate court (Nachlassgericht) which in most cases is the probate court where the deceased resided at the time of his or her death.

A  certificate of inheritance is required in Germany to settle the estate, i.e. close down bank accounts in Germany, change the title in the land registry (Grundbuch).

A person applying for a German certificate of inheritance must provide the court with all supporting documentation that prove to the probate court that the applicant is an heir to the deceased’s estate.

Typically the applicant has to provide to the court information relating to the line of succession including a notarised copies of birth, death and marriage certificates, last wills, grant of probate, family book, a valuation of the estate, a notarised copy of the applicants passport.

The official court language in Germany is German which means that all applications and supporting documents have to be prepared in German.

The correctness of the information provided in the application for a German certificate of inheritance must accompanied by an affidavit, which can be sworn or affirmed before a German court, a German notary, or a German embassy.

The process of obtaining a German inheritance certificate can take several months.

If you need help with settling a German estate or you wonder if you need a German will, please feel free to contact us.