German Law: Inheritance and Probate in Germany

Standard Details in English on German probate and inheritance law.

German inheritance law offers that decedent’s property passes directly to the heirs at the time of death. Under German law the exact same guideline applies to decedent’s commitments. Besides possessions you might also inherit debts in Germany. However it is possible to disclaim an inheritance in Germany.
There is no US-style probate in Germany and, generally, there is no court supervised administration of decedent’s estate in Germany. Under German law a will may call an executor and attend to subsequent estate administration, however many 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 a beneficiary under German law depends on whether decedent left a will. If there is no will you might be an heir at law under German law of intestate succession. If there is a will, in most cases, you will just be a successor if decedent named you explicitly, or implicitly. If you are not a successor under the will, German law offers 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? Anyone who is in ownership 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 beneficiaries frequently need to look for letters of inheritance which are required to move title to acquired property in Germany, and normally needed to settle savings account and claims in Germany. As soon as the Court receives an application it will notify the beneficiaries at law. If the identity of the successors is unclear the Court may utilize private investigators to find and call possible heirs.
Once you have understanding that you have 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. Heirs who live abroad, or are abroad at the time of death, benefit from an extended duration. If you reside in the United States you have six months to disclaim an inheritance in Germany. Please note that specific acts might indicate approval of an inheritance under German law. If you accept an inheritance in Germany you might be personally accountable for decedent’s financial obligations with your own assets.

Most likely, you will face inheritance tax liability in Germany. Germany, unlike the United States, does not tax the estate. Each heir and each recipient is taxed individually. 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.