German Law: Inheritance and Probate in Germany

Fundamental Information in English on German probate and inheritance law.

German inheritance law provides that decedent’s property passes directly to the successors at the time of death. Under German law the very same rule applies to decedent’s responsibilities. Subsequently, besides possessions you might also acquire financial obligations in Germany. It is possible to disclaim an inheritance in Germany.
There is no US-style probate in Germany and, typically, there is no court monitored administration of decedent’s estate in Germany. Under German law a will might call an executor 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 recognize 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 might be a beneficiary at law under German law of intestate succession. If there is a will, most of the times, you will only be an heir if decedent called you explicitly, or implicitly. If you are not a successor under the will, German law provides that you may still be entitled to a forced share of the inheritance, even if decedent planned to exclude you.

How do you learn that you may have made an inheritance in Germany? Anybody who is in belongings or control of a will is required to send it to the Court where decedent was domiciled. The Court will notify you if you are a successor under the will, or an heir at law. Even if there is no will successors often need to look for letters of inheritance which are necessary to transfer title to inherited property in Germany, and normally needed to settle checking account and claims in Germany. When the Court gets an application it will notify the successors at law. If the identity of the beneficiaries is not clear the Court might use investigators to discover and get in touch with possible heirs.
Once you have understanding that you have actually become an heir at law, or under decedent’s will, you have six weeks to disclaim the inheritance, if you have actually not currently accepted it. Successors who live abroad, or are abroad at the time of death, benefit from an extended duration. If you reside in the US you have six months to disclaim an inheritance in Germany. Please note that certain acts may indicate approval of an inheritance under German law. If you accept an inheritance in Germany you may be personally responsible for decedent’s financial obligations with your own assets.

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