In a Nutshell – German Inheritance and Inheritance Tax Law

 In a Nutshell – German Inheritance and Inheritance Tax Law

When does German inheritance law apply?

In principal, German international inheritance law refers to the country’s jurisdiction of which the deceased was a national. However, most other foreign jurisdictions often  anwalt erbrecht  refer back to the jurisdiction of the country where real estate is located or where the deceased had his last domicile. As a result, German law would apply although the deceased was a foreign citizen.

German Law of Intestate Succession

Unless the deceased arranges his succession by making a will or concluding a contract affecting the devise of his property his spouse and his descendants are called to succession. Should no descendants exist his parents and their descendants (i.e. the siblings of the deceased) will be entitled to inherit. Consequently, the widespread assumption that the spouse is always entitled the sole intestate inheritance is wrong in most cases.

Effects of the Matrimonial Property Regime on the Spouses Inheritance Quota

The inheritance quota of the spouse according to German law depend on the matrimonial property regime the married couple lived with. Thereby, the law distinguishes between the separation of property, the joint property and the community of surplus with the latter being the German statutory matrimonial regime. Unless the spouses have agreed otherwise the matrimonial regime of such country would apply where the spouses had their habitual residence at the time of the marriage. Consequently, foreign property regimes are somewhat adjusted in order to fit with the German legal inheritance system.

The Form of the Testament

According to German law, only testaments which were completely handwritten as well as notarial recorded testaments are valid. In contrast, witnessed testaments allowed in many English speaking countries are unknown in German civil law. However, in cases involving testators of a foreign citizenship testaments which comply with the formal requirements of the foreign jurisdiction are acknowledged in Germany, too. The same applies if the will is written abroad or if the testator has his residence abroad. As a consequence, testaments of a somewhat international background regularly do not fail at the German courts.

Testamentary Succession and Compulsory Portion

In Germany, testamentary freedom is granted. However, should the deceased have left behind a will disinheriting his spouse or close relatives by blood these would be entitled a compulsory share. Such situation occurs regularly if two spouses make a mutual testament appointing themselves as their sole heir and thereby disinherit their children which are often the offspring of one testators first marriage.

The compulsory portion amounts to half of the legal share which the disinherited individual would get in an intestate succession. Donations which the deceased effected up to ten years before his death are added to the value of the estate when computing the compulsory share. Therefor, it is not possible to circumvent the compulsory share by donating the property to the beneficiary in ones lifetime instead of


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