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Inheriting in Germany as a Foreigner: A Guide to the Unique Process

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2023 | Munich, Trust, Estate Planning, and Probate |

Inheriting assets in a foreign country can be both a complex and emotional experience. Germany, with its robust legal framework and specific regulations, has a particular process for foreigners inheriting assets within its borders. In this blog, we’ll delve into how the inheritance process works in Germany for foreigners, whether they are Americans or from any other country, and how the experienced international law firm Urban Thier & Federer can assist foreign heirs through its German offices.

Understanding the German Inheritance System

Germany has a civil law-based legal system, and its inheritance laws are known for their strict adherence to rules and regulations. Here are some key aspects of the German inheritance system:

  1. Forced Heirship Rules: Germany has a strong tradition of forced heirship, which means certain family members, such as children and spouses, have a legal entitlement to a portion of the deceased’s estate. This can be different from the inheritance laws in some other countries.
  2. Will and Testament: While it is possible to draft a will in Germany to specify how your assets should be distributed, the forced heirship rules still apply to a significant extent. It’s crucial to understand how your wishes align with German inheritance laws. Also, foreign trusts are usually not recognized in Germany. This may cause problems with the application for a Certificate of Inheritance.
  3. Intestate Succession: If the deceased did not leave a valid will, or the will or trust is not recognized in Germany, Getman or foreign intestate succession rules may apply. These rules specify how the estate will be distributed among the heirs based on their relationship to the deceased.

Steps for Foreigners Inheriting in Germany

For foreigners inheriting in Germany, the process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Determine the Legal Heirs: The first step is to establish who the legal heirs are according to German law. This process can be complex, especially when there are international elements involved.
  2. Locate and Value the Assets: Identifying and valuing the assets in the deceased’s estate is crucial. This includes bank accounts, real estate, investments, and personal property.
  3. Apply for Probate: In Germany, the process is known as “Erbscheinsantrag”, or “Application for Certificate of Inheritance”, which is similar to probate in other countries. It is a court procedure to officially recognize the heirs and their entitlements. With an “Erbschein” in hand, the heir or his/her attorneys cannaccess the estate assets.
  4. Pay Inheritance Taxes: Depending on the value of the estate and the relationship between the heirs and the deceased, inheritance taxes may apply. Germany has its own tax laws governing this. In Germany, the heir is luable for taxes, not the estate. Heirs residing in countries with a tax treaty in place with Germany (“Double Taxation Treaty”) may benefit from a tax credit for German taxes paid.
  5. Distribute the Assets: Once all legal requirements are met, the assets can be distributed among the heirs in accordance with the German inheritance laws.

Urban Thier & Federer: Your Trusted Partner in German Inheritance Matters

Urban Thier & Federer, an international law firm with extensive experience in German law, has been assisting foreign heirs in Germany for over 20 years through its German offices. Here’s how they can help:

  • Expertise in German Law: Their team of legal experts is well-versed in the intricacies of German inheritance law and can guide you through the entire process.
  • Navigating Complexities: Dealing with international inheritance can be intricate, but Urban Thier & Federer’s experience ensures that you can efficiently navigate these complexities.
  • Legal Representation: Whether you are an heir, executor, or administrator, they can provide the legal representation you need to protect your interests.

Inheriting assets in Germany as a foreigner involves adhering to Germany’s unique legal framework and navigating the complexities of its inheritance laws. With the support and expertise of Urban Thier & Federer, foreign heirs can ensure a smooth and legally compliant process in this country. Their decades of experience make them a trusted partner for anyone facing the challenges of inheriting in Germany.