What is the Certificate of Inheritance?
As stated above the certificate of inheritance is a document which identifies heirs when they approach insurance companies, banks, tenants / landlords, business partners and other bodies. It provides a clear identification of the heirs. It is vital in cases where the testator has not left a notarised will or contract of inheritance. The law for the certificate of inheritance can be found between §§ 2353 – 2370 BGB. Alternatively, a testator can grant an individual the power of attorney if that power of attorney is valid following the passing of the deceased. A certificate of inheritance may not be needed in cases where a notarised will has been left by the testator.
The application for a certificate of inheritance should be made at the probate court or notarized at the public notary. It is not provided automatically. Contact an experienced inheritance lawyer if there is any fear of a disputed inheritance.
With the certificate of inheritance the heir can then make decisions and legal transactions on the property and assets inherited. Once it has been issued, the heirs can make decisions on loans that have made, debts that exist and on selling the property in question. However, it should be noted that the extent to which a person can make such decisions is based on the amount they have in fact inherited. The amount you have inherited and whether you are a sole heir will be outlined in the certificate of inheritance.
In cases where a property has fallen into the hands of multiple heirs, “a community of heirs” develops. Read more about the legal requirements and definitions involved in the “community of heirs” on our page on the topic.
Joint Certificate of Inheritance
There are different forms of the certificate of inheritance and they are based on the number of heirs as well as other factors. In cases where there is one clear heir, they can apply for a sole certificate of inheritance, whereas in cases involving multiple heirs there is a joint certificate of inheritance. The joint certificate of inheritance requirements is outlined under § 352a FamFG:
§ 352a – Joint Certificate of Inheritance
- If there is more than one heir, a joint certificate of inheritance shall be issued upon application. The application may be submitted by any one of the heirs.
- In the application, the heirs and their shares of the inheritance shall be stated. The statement in respect of inheritance shares is not required when in the application all applicants waive the inclusion of the inheritance shares in the certificate of inheritance.
- If the application is not submitted by all of the heirs, it shall contain a statement that the other heirs have accepted the inheritance. § 352 (3) third sentence shall also be applicable to the information provided by the applicant concerning the other heirs.
For the joint certificate of inheritance, the share of all heirs must be established, and these heirs must have accepted their inheritance. This joint certificate outlines who the heirs are and what they are all entitled to.
A partial certificate of inheritance can also be applied for in the case of more than one heir. This certificate does not go into detail on what the other heirs are entitled to but outlines what the individual in question is entitled to. All co-heirs can apply for this.
Receiving a Certificate of Inheritance
As stated above, the certificate of inheritance is not automatically issued. It must be applied for at the competent probate court or at a public notary. When seeking a certificate of inheritance, you are obliged to submit documents showing that you are entitled to inherit in accordance with statutory succession law. One element of statutory succession law concerns the Pflichtteil / compulsory shar of inheritance which applies to certain close family members. Essentially, they cannot be excluded from the will and are entitled to certain percentages of an inheritance (at a minimum). See our page on the Pflichtteil / Compulsory Share of Inheritance here to find out more about more this requirement.
The documents needed to apply for the certificate include the following:
- Your personal identity card / passport,
- the death certificate of the individual,
- marriage certificate (in case of spouse),
- family register, birth certificate in case of children (demonstrate family relationship),
- signed affidavit that no will or inheritance contract is known of,
- names and addresses of co-heirs (siblings, parents etc.),
- death certificates of co-heirs who should now be excluded from inheriting (where possible co-heirs have died prior to the testator).
The full list of documents required when seeking a certificate of inheritance will vary from case to case. Therefore, it is worth contacting a legal professional in advance of your application in order to ensure that you are submitting the right documents for your case.
It should also be noted that there is a cost involved in these applications. The fees in question concern:
- certifying the affidavit of accuracy regarding the lack of notarised will or inheritance contract,
- the fee for the granting of the certificate of inheritance.
The fee for the granting of the certificate of inheritance will vary from case to case and it will be based on provisions within the GNotKG (Law on costs of voluntary jurisdiction for courts and notaries). However, in cases where there are issues in dispute, there are likely to be rises in the legal costs.
Refusing an Inheritance
It is not a requirement that a person accepts the inheritance they are entitled to. If you find yourself in a situation where, for example, you are in a community of heirs but do not believe that the amount inherited is worth the trouble involved, it is possible to refuse an inheritance. This can be worth considering in cases where the testator has left significant debts or where the property in question is not profitable. If you are considering or planning on refusing an inheritance, contact a legal professional just to make sure that it is the right decision. However, if you are considering this step you must act fast as there is a deadline of six weeks following the knowledge of inheritance in which a person is entitled to refuse the inheritance.
Incorrect Issuing of Certificate of Inheritance
The incorrect issuing of a certificate of inheritance will lead to the declaration of it as invalid. It will also be confiscated. The incorrect issuing of a certificate of inheritance can arise when the person claiming it misleads the issuer by intentionally providing incorrect information. Intentional misleading can lead to serious consequences. Therefore, if you are facing this accusation it is crucial to consult with a legal expert! If a person has intentionally been misleading and has then received a certificate of inheritance based on that, it is likely that they know another person (or persons) has been made heir. Such an action can lead to imprisonment.
However, it is not always the case that the incorrect issuing of a certificate of inheritance is provided due to deliberate misleading. In this scenario, the person issued with the certificate of inheritance is presumed to have had the assumption based on false information rather than deliberate intention. This is provided for under § 2365 BGB which states:
It is presumed that the person who is named as heir in the certificate of inheritance has the right of succession stated in the certificate, and that he is not restricted by any directions other than those stated.
If you are thinking of applying for a certificate of inheritance, please bear in mind the following points:
- Minors: Minors can inherit in German law but in cases with minors they must have representation. In such cases the parents or guardians of the child are the ones who will represent them.
- Heirs: Whether you are a heir or not will be determined either by a will or testament or by statutory requirements. It is difficult for statutory heirs such as close family members to be fully disinherited but in certain cases it is possible.
- Disinherited: You may have been disinherited by the testator in advance and in such a situation your application for the certificate of inheritance is likely to be unsuccessful.
- Receiving the Certificate: Once the application has been made and the correct documents have been submitted, you will receive the certificate in a few weeks by post. Delays are not unusual when it comes to the issuing of the certificate.
- Refused a certificate: If you have been refused a certificate of inheritance by the probate court, you have one month in which to launch an appeal of that decision.
- Disputes: The issuing of a certificate of inheritance may lead to disputes arising. In such a case it is important to contact a legal professional to work with you. Such disputes can be lengthy affairs and also incur significant costs. The estate also cannot be acted upon during the time of the legal dispute. A lawyer will help you to establish your legal position as an heir, settle disputes among the community of heirs and keep you informed about the status of the estate.
At Schlun & Elseven, our inheritance law team will look to avoid lengthy in-court legal disputes. Insofar as it is beneficial to our clients, we will look to resolve matters outside of the courtroom. However, if it is in the interest of our client for the matter to be brought to court, or where settling the case in such a manner cannot be avoided, we will be by their side providing the legal counsel needed.
Legal Representation in Inheritance Law Issues
When it comes to legal rights relating to inheritance law; look no further than Schlun & Elseven Attorneys. Our legal professionals will provide you with the peace of mind you need when it comes to planning for the future. We can assist with the drafting of wills (thus, ensuring that the legal requirements are fulfilled), estate planning and generally ensuring that the aims of our clients are fulfilled. We also represent heirs and answer their queries as well as guide them through any disputes which may arise. We provide counsel and support both inside and outside of the courtroom.
Schlun & Elseven Attorneys is a German legal firm with its main offices in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Aachen. We also have conference rooms in Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Frankfurt and thus are available nationwide in Germany. Furthermore, we advise a diverse range of international clients on a wide variety of German inheritance law. If you require further advice and more specialised assistance when it comes to the certificate of inheritance, then please make sure to contact us directly using the contact information below. Our inheritance law specialists look forward to working with you.