German Law: Inheritance and Probate in Germany
Basic Information in English on German probate and inheritance law.
German inheritance law offers that decedent’s property passes directly to the beneficiaries at the time of death. Under German law the exact same guideline applies to decedent’s commitments. Besides possessions you may likewise acquire debts in Germany. But 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 attend to subsequent estate administration, but most wills in Germany do not.
There are no living trusts under German law. Germany is a civil law jurisdiction which does not recognize trusts. There will be no trustee taking title to decedent’s properties in Germany.
If you are an heir under German law depends upon whether decedent left a will. If there is no will you may be an heir at law under German law of intestate succession. If there is a will, for the most part, you will only be a beneficiary if decedent called you explicitly, 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 out that you may have made an inheritance in Germany? Anybody who is in ownership or control of a will is needed to submit it to the Court where decedent was domiciled. The Court will alert you if you are an heir under the will, or a beneficiary at law. Even if there is no will heirs often need to obtain letters of inheritance which are required to move title to inherited property in Germany, and normally needed to settle bank accounts and claims in Germany. When the Court receives an application it will alert the heirs at law. If the identity of the heirs is unclear the Court may utilize private investigators to find and contact possible heirs.
Once you have knowledge that you have become a successor at law, or under decedent’s will, you have six weeks to disclaim the inheritance, if you have actually not already accepted it. Heirs who live abroad, or are abroad at the time of death, take advantage of an extended duration. If you reside in the United States you have six months to disclaim an inheritance in Germany. Please note that certain acts may suggest acceptance of an inheritance under German law. If you accept an inheritance in Germany you may be personally responsible for decedent’s debts with your own assets.
Most likely, you will deal with estate tax liability in Germany. Germany, unlike the United States, does not tax the estate. Each heir and each beneficiary is taxed separately. Tax rates and exemptions vary. They depend on the degree of kinship and the amount inherited. You will have to submit an inheritance tax return in Germany.