German Inheritance Law Firm
English-speaking lawyers for succession and probate
German inheritance law is complex and differs considerably in important areas from that of other states. If you are planning or currently involved in an inheritance with a connection to Germany – whether because one of the parties lives in Germany or because assets are located in Germany – it is generally advisable to consult a lawyer specialising in German inheritance law.
ROSE & PARTNER is one of the most renowned inheritance law firms in Germany. Our English-speaking certified specialists in inheritance law and tax advisors advise wealthy individuals and entrepreneurs throughout Germany and abroad on all legal and tax issues relating to succession. We have offices in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Services of our certified specialists for inheritance law and tax advisors
- Planning and structuring German and international inheritance cases through wills
- Settlement of inheritances in Germany and abroad
- Inheritance certificate proceedings before German probate courts
- Extrajudicial and judicial representation in inheritance disputes
- Inheritance tax returns
For a non-binding inquiry, please get in touch with one of our contact persons directly by phone or e-mail or use the contact form at the bottom of this page.
Important topics in German inheritance law
In the following, we will discuss important principles and practical details of German inheritance law:
- When is German inheritance law applicable, and when do German courts have jurisdiction?
- Statutory inheritance law and structuring of inheritance by will
- Winding-up of an inheritance in Germany
- Inheritance disputes in Germany
- Inheritance tax in Germany
When is German inheritance law applicable, and when do German courts have jurisdiction?
As a rule, each state involved decides which country’s inheritance law applies to international or cross-border inheritances from its own point of view. Germany and most other European states have agreed, within the framework of the EU Succession Regulation, that it is not the citizenship of the testator but his or her last habitual residence which should be the deciding factor when it comes to the question of which inheritance law applies. For example, an Italian living in Germany will inherit according to German inheritance law unless he chooses Italian inheritance law by way of a choice of law clause.
Under the EU Succession Regulation, the question of whether a German probate court is competent to issue a certificate of inheritance or a European Certificate of Succession also depends on the last habitual residence of the testator. If this was in Germany, international jurisdiction lies with the German court.
Statutory inheritance law and structuring of inheritance by will
In Germany, both descendants and spouses have a statutory right of inheritance. If there are no children or grandchildren, other relatives may also be considered as legal heirs. The amount of the spouse's inheritance quota depends on whether he or she inherits alongside descendants or other relatives and on the matrimonial property regime under which the spouses lived.
This legal succession can be modified by a testamentary disposition. German inheritance law recognizes both handwritten wills and public wills which have been notarised. An inheritance contract can also be drawn up at the notary's office.
A special feature of German inheritance law is the jointspouse's will. Married couples can set this up together. It triggers certain binding results, providing assurances for both spouses and joint children.
In Germany, persons are largely free to dispose of their property by will as they choose; thus, legal heirs can also be disinherited. However, if they are disinherited in whole or in part, spouses and children are nevertheless entitled to a compulsory share amounting to half their statutory share of the inheritance. The claim to the compulsory share must be satisfied by the heir or heirs by means of a monetary payment.
More Information: Will/Testament in Germany
Settlement of an inheritance in Germany
Upon the death of the testator, succession takes effect automatically, without the need for acceptance of the inheritance by the heirs. Frequently, heirs will apply for a certificate of inheritance to prove their status as heirs. In cross-border cases, a European Certificate of Succession may also be considered. If necessary, however, a testamentary disposition will also suffice as proof.
- Real estate: If real estate is part of the inheritance, the land register must be corrected. For this purpose, a certificate of inheritance or an opened notarial will must be presented to the land registry.
- Company shares: The same applies here as with real estate. To register the successor of the shareholder in the commercial register, a certificate of inheritance or an opened notarial will is required.
- Assets in banks: To prove heirship vis-à-vis banks and to obtain access to bank accounts, custody accounts, and safe-deposit boxes, a private (handwritten) will can be considered in addition to the certificate of inheritance.
If there is more than one legal or testamentary heir, a community of joint heirs is formed under German inheritance law. This involuntary ‘community’ is very complex and prone to disputes. Put simply, in a community of heirs, everything belongs jointly to everyone. Dispositions of individual portions of the estate can only be decided jointly and unanimously. For administrative measures, on the other hand, only a majority of the inheritance shares is sufficient. In Germany, communities of joint heirs face particular difficulties when real estate or companies are part of the estate.
The community of joint heirs ends with the settlement, i.e., the complete distribution of the inheritance among the co-heirs. Although there are means of coercion and individual steps on the way to a settlement can be enforced by the courts, it is, in practice, ultimately necessary to reach an amicable agreement to end the community of joint heirs.
Inheritance disputes in Germany
Due to their economic and emotional significance, conflicts in the aftermath of inheritance cases are often litigated by lawyers for inheritance law and frequently settled in court. The following is an overview of the most important issues in inheritance litigation:
- Validity of the will: If succession is based on a will, the dispute may focus on whether the will is invalid or contestable. This may be the case in the event of formal errors, mistakes on the part of the testator, or in the event of incapacity to make a will due to illness.
- Interpretation of the will: Even if the validity of the testamentary disposition is clear, there may be a conflict as to the meaning or proper interpretation of the instructions in the will.
- Disputes within the community of joint heirs: When it comes to communities of joint heirs, there are numerous opportunities for conflict – from the use or management of assets such as real estate to the distribution of the estate.
- Assertion of compulsory-share claims: If a spouse or a child has been disinherited by a will and therefore claims a compulsory share, a dispute often arises as to which assets part of the estate and at what their assessed value is.
Inheritance tax in Germany
In principle, every gratuitous acquisition of assets in Germany is subject to inheritance tax or gift tax. However, there are notable personal tax allowances for close relatives:
- Spouses: EUR 500,000 and a further up to EUR 256,000 as a special pension allowance
- Children: EUR 400,000
- Grandchildren: EUR 200,000
- Distant relatives, non-family: EUR 20,000
Inherited amounts in excess of these limits are generally taxable. The tax class and the tax rates depend on the respective relationship between the testator and the heirs.
There are tax exemptions or relief for many assets. The most important relate to owner-occupied residential property and company shares. Both can even be passed on tax-free to the next generation through an inheritance, provided strict conditions are met.
The requirements for a lawyer for inheritance law in Germany
The law of inheritance and succession is one of the most complex areas of German law. Specialization and experience are therefore necessary prerequisites for sound legal advice.
Inheritance cases with an international dimension also require special knowledge. Consultations are then often held in English.
It is also important to have expertise in areas related to inheritance law. These include, for example, tax law, commercial law, family law, and charitable-foundation law. A good law firm for inheritance law should therefore also have lawyers in these disciplines on its team.