10 FAQ on Inheritance Law in Germany

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.

I have also posted FAQ about international child abduction, about divorce in Germany, about child custody law in Germany, about how to obtain a German passport, about filing a constitutional complaint if your human rights are violated in Germany and about how to work with me as your lawyer. You can see the full list of FAQ on my website.

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).

About Andreas Moser

You will most likely find me in the forest, next to the lake, reading a book. Just follow the cigar smoke!
This entry was posted in Family Law, German Law, Germany, Law and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to 10 FAQ on Inheritance Law in Germany

  1. Pingback: FAQ on working with me as your lawyer | The Happy Hermit – Andreas Moser's Blog

  2. Pingback: 10 FAQ on divorce in Germany | The Happy Hermit

  3. Pingback: 10 FAQ on citizenship law in Germany | The Happy Hermit

  4. Pingback: 10 FAQ about child custody law in Germany | The Happy Hermit

  5. Pingback: 10 FAQ about filing a Constitutional Complaint in Germany | The Happy Hermit

  6. Pingback: 10 FAQ on international child abduction | The Happy Hermit

  7. Rachel M says:

    Hello Mr. Moser

    Does a life insurance policy count as an inheritance? If so, when a child inherits does their husband automatically get half of that or must that be specified in the will?

    Thank you

    Rachel

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    • No, a life insurance is usually not part of the inheritance or the estate. But even for inheritance, I don’t see why the deceased child’s husband would receive any share in it. The husband is not related to the parents of his spouse and is therefore not entitled to inherit (unless specified in the will of course).

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  8. Peter Traks says:

    Mr Moser: I entered this question a few minutes ago under the wrong heading (divorce). Here it is again: I’m a German citizen living in Germany with a younger American wife. She has fears that my children ( from another spouse, who were born and live in America) might demand part of my assets when I die, which would effectively kick her out of our house. Would adding her name to the house and/or writing a will that excludes them suffice?

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    • Hello Peter,
      to fully exclude your children, you would have to have good reasons. Because of the strong forced heirship in German law, it is terribly difficult to disinherit children completely.
      However, by excluding your children from your will, you limit them at least to half of what they would usually inherit.
      And yes, if you transfer part of your property (e.g. 50%) to your wife, then that part won’t be subject to inheritance in case of your death. (Of course you would then regret doing so if it ever came to a separation or a divorce, so that’s a very tricky question to answer in a general way).

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      • Stuart says:

        Dear Andreas (if I may),

        Please could you advise whether under German Inheritance Law, a Stepchild is classified as a first class heir and therefore protected from disinheritance under German forced inheritance law?

        Thank you in keen anticipation of your help.

        Kindest regards

        Stuart

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      • Hello Stuart,

        a stepchild has no inheritance rights at all because it has no legal ties to the stepfather or stepmother. It merely happens to live in the same house, but like its biological parent, it will probably be gone once the relationship breaks up.

        This all changes if the stepchild will get adopted. Then it will be treated like any biological child would be.

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      • Stuart says:

        Hi Andreas,

        Thank you very much indeed for your rapid reply.

        The specific question I have is whether or not my aunt, whose biological father died some year ago, but was still married to my aunt’s stepmother, who never remarried, would be protected from disinheritance by her stepmother under German forced inheritance law?

        Or does it come down to whether or not my aunt was formally adopted by her stepmother?

        Thank you once again.

        Stuart

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      • Adoption would indeed change everything, so I would need to know if hat occurred or not.
        But I would also need to see your aunt’s father’s last will because he might have appointed his new wife as primary heiress but your aunt as secondary heiress. In this case, the last will could overrule statutory law.

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  9. Caroline Murphy says:

    Hi Andreas,my grandfather migrated to New Zealand from Germany, he married my grandmother and had my father. Both my fathers parents passed when he was young, he then was adopted out.
    I am 29 and have my grandfathers birth and death certificates , my fathers birth certificate and adoption papers and also mine. Would I be eligible to apply for a german passport. Currently a citizen to New Zealand as that is where I was born. I am also looking into changing my surname to my grandfathers german name.

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  10. Pingback: FAQ on Naturalization in Germany from Abroad | The Happy Hermit

  11. Milan Filipovic says:

    Our aunt passed away six months ago and to the best of our knowledge she left no property behind her in Germany. She was a Serbian citizen who had residence in Germany but in fact spend the last two years of her life in Serbia where we took care of her as she was dying of cancer. We received a letter from her bank stating she had an overdraft of 1000 euros on her bank account and that we should pay it. When she passed away we promptly notified the German embassy in Serbia and as to their instructions her pension and health insurance carriers in Germany. Even though there was no specification in the letter as to how and when this overdraft happened the amount sums up to six month of her rent in Germany where she had a long term rental of a room. When she died we had our aunts friend in Germany notify her landlord as well as the bank and we also believed when the pension stopped the bank would stop paying out the long term rental. Germany applies the law of citizenship of the deceased. By Serbian law there is no deadline after which it is assumed that we accepted the inheritance with debts and also by the same law we should not be liable for the debt that is greater that the assets unless we expressly accept it in a court of law. We are not legal or testatory heirs of our aunts. My mother had a contract with her aunt that stated that my mother would take care of her aunt in sickness and in health and also take care of her burial her when she passed away and in return she would get her aunts apartment in Serbia. These contracts are permissible by Serbian law and the real estate in them is exempted from deceased’s estate.
    Are we liable for the debt?

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  12. Lisa Marschall says:

    Mr Moser
    does a nephew or niece have any entitlement to an inheritance? The deceased lived with his girlfriend for 25 years but did not marry for financial reasons. His will gives her everything but a small sum to the nephews. she is partial owner of the house and has power of attorney over all of his assets. can the nephews fight her for control? and would they have a chance of winning?

    Lisa Marschall

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    • Nephews and nieces are usually entitled to inherit, but in this case they were (partially) excluded by the will. Nephews and nieces are not protected by the forced-heirship clause (see no. 6 of the FAQ), so they cannot contest the will for that reason.

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  13. Peter Holmes says:

    My wife’s father, a German citizen living in Germany, left a condition in his will to his two daughters that nothing he left would ever pass to their husbands or to his grandchildren’s spouses. Do they have to continue to abide by this condition?

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    • It is possible to set up such a testament under German law if your wife’s father used “Vorerbschaft” and “Nacherbschaft”, that is if he specifically appointed somebody who would inherit after his daughters’ death.
      Of course there are some ways around this, especially if your wife doesn’t want to wait until her death with the disposition of her property.
      I would need to read the will to give you a definitive answer. You can mail it to me at moser@moser-law.com.

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  14. Simon shrigley says:

    Hi andreas,

    My wife comes from Germany. Her father died in debt. We live in Guernsey Channel Islands UK with 2 children . My wife has formally rejected his inheritance (so not to have the debt ). I need to reject the inheritance to ensure myself and the children are not liablr but due to cost can’t travel to Germany. I believe a UK consulate can witness my signature to document my rejection of the will however what paperwork do i need to sign to ensure it is all done correctly?

    Like this

    • You yourself do not need to reject the inheritance because you are not related to your wife’s father and thus not entitled to inherit (unless he specifically awarded something to you in his will).

      But, depending, on whether your wife has any siblings who assumed the inheritance, your children might be next in line. You and your wife may then reject the inheritance on their behalf. You can do this at a notary or at the German Consulate. There is no special form that you need to sign, but your declaration needs to specify the deceased, the inheritance, your two children and that you and your wife are acting on their behalf.

      Remember that the deadline is 6 months (§ 1944 III BGB) and in the case of your children, these 6 months began when your wife rejected the inheritance (again depending on whether there were other siblings and depending on what they did).

      Greetings to Guernsey where I once spent a beautiful hiking holiday!

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