I have noticed that I receive many e-mails with the same questions, so I have started to post the most frequent questions – and of course the answers to them – for everyone to read for free. As this section might already answer many of your questions, I invite you to browse these FAQ before you contact me (or any other lawyer) about your case.
Before asking a new question, please read through the many comments which may already answer your questions. And if you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a new question, it would be very nice if you make a donation. Thank you! (After all, if you are on this page, you are about to receive a huge inheritance.)
1. Which law applies in international cases?
Germany applies the law of the citizenship of the deceased (Art. 25 I EGBGB), does however allow you to choose German law for real estate within Germany (Art. 25 II EGBGB).
2. Who inherits under German law if I have no will?
That depends on your family situation. If you have one surviving spouse and two children for example, the spouse will receive 50 % and the children will receive 25 % each. If you are single without children, your parents will inherit 50 % each. The more complicated your family situation, the more complicated the distribution.
3. I don’t like these quotas. Can I determine who gets the house, the car, my books and the dog?
Yes, you can. You will need to write a will for this purpose.
4. And how do I write a will?
The two main forms are the notarized will (which requires a notary public of course) and the privately written will. They have equal validity.
The privately written testament has to be written by hand (no typing), signed and dated (§ 2247 BGB).
5. Can I change my will later?
Of course. You do this either by destroying it (if there is only one copy) or by writing a new one in which you include the explicit remark that this new will supersedes the old one. If you have filed your will with a notary public, you need to ask him to hand you the original testament back.
6. Can I disinherit my children / can my parents disinherit me?
German law has a system of “forced heirship” (§ 2303 BGB) which means that children, parents and the spouse are entitled to a certain minimum of the estate even if they are disinherited. So yes, you can express your wish to disinherit someone in your will, but he/she will still receive a legal minimum. Only in cases of gross misconduct on the part of the potential heir towards the deceased is it possible to exclude them completely (§ 2333 BGB).
7. If I have been disinherited, can I contest the will?
Yes, you can (§ 2078 BGB).
8. What if I don’t want to inherit?
If you don’t want to inherit (for example if the estate includes more debts than assets), you can refuse to accept the inheritance. However, you need to explicitly declare that you reject the inheritance within 6 weeks of your knowledge of the inheritance (§ 1944 I, II BGB). If you live outside of Germany, this limitation period is 6 months (§ 1944 III BGB).
9. Does Germany tax inheritance?
You bet. The tax rate depends on the amount inherited and on how closely related you were to the deceased. As a child, for example, 400.000 EUR are tax free. Above this threshold, the tax rate progresses from 7 % to 30 %. The maximum tax rate (for non-related heirs) is 50 %.
10. Who inherits if there are no relatives at all and no will has been made?
Guess who? Exactly: the state in which the deceased had his last residence will inherit everything (§ 1936 BGB).