German Law: Inheritance and Probate in Germany

Basic Info in English on German probate and inheritance law.

German inheritance law offers that decedent’s property passes straight to the successors at the time of death. Under German law the same guideline applies to decedent’s obligations. Besides assets you may also acquire debts in Germany. It is possible to disclaim an inheritance in Germany.
There is no US-style probate in Germany and, generally, there is no court monitored administration of decedent’s estate in Germany. Under German law a will may name an executor and offer subsequent estate administration, but many 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 possessions in Germany.
If you are a beneficiary under German law depends upon whether decedent left a will. If there is no will you might be a successor at law under German law of intestate succession. If there is a will, in many cases, you will only be a successor if decedent named you clearly, or implicitly. If you are not a beneficiary under the will, German law provides that you may still be entitled to a forced share of the inheritance, even if decedent intended to exclude you.

How do you discover that you may have made an inheritance in Germany? Anyone who is in belongings or control of a will is required to send it to the Court where decedent was domiciled. The Court will alert you if you are a successor under the will, or an heir at law. Even if there is no will beneficiaries frequently need to look for letters of inheritance which are needed to transfer title to acquired property in Germany, and normally required to settle savings account and claims in Germany. As soon as the Court gets an application it will notify the heirs at law. If the identity of the beneficiaries is unclear the Court might use detectives to discover and contact possible heirs.
Once you have knowledge that you have become a beneficiary at law, or under decedent’s will, you have six weeks to disclaim the inheritance, if you have not already accepted it. Beneficiaries who live abroad, or are abroad at the time of death, take advantage of a prolonged duration. If you live in the US you have six months to disclaim an inheritance in Germany. Please note that specific acts might indicate acceptance of an inheritance under German law. If you accept an inheritance in Germany you might be personally accountable for decedent’s debts with your own assets.

Most likely, you will face estate tax liability in Germany. Germany, unlike the United States, does not tax the estate. Each heir and each beneficiary is taxed individually. Tax rates and exemptions vary. They depend on the degree of kinship and the quantity inherited. You will have to file an estate tax return in Germany.

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