The Inheritance Contract
in Germany
(der Erbvertrag)

German Inheritance Lawyers

The Inheritance Contract in Germany (der Erbvertrag)

German Inheritance Lawyers

At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, we appreciate the value of appropriately planning to distribute your assets after your passing. That is why we specialise in drafting and reviewing inheritance contracts for our clients in Germany.

The inheritance contract (der Erbvertrag) allows a testator to outline how their assets will be distributed following their passing. An inheritance contract has several stricter conditions than a will, and they differ significantly in terms of their requirements, the strength of their legal protection and changing and cancelling the agreement.

At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, our German probate and inheritance lawyers advise on all matters relating to inheritance law, wills, inheritance contracts and more. Our experienced attorneys will work closely with you to ensure that your wishes are clearly outlined and legally binding, protecting your loved ones and your estate.

For specialised services in German inheritance law, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.

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The Inheritance Contract: General Information

The inheritance contract (Erbvertrag) is a binding agreement between at least two parties, including the testator.

It is a means of disposition of property and assets following the testator’s passing. An inheritance contract is less flexible and subject to more robust legal requirements than a will.

Changing or cancelling an inheritance contract involves agreeing with the other parties involved in the agreement, and it must be notarized.

An inheritance contract allows the testator to place particular demands on the part of the prospective heir. An inheritance contract may consist of the testator leaving their property to the heir; however, the heir may face obligations to take care of the testator in their old age.

An inheritance contract can be preferable to a will in some instances. An example of a situation where an inheritance contract is preferable is where the testator is not married to their partner.

Generally, spousal wills are primarily for married couples or registered partners, but the inheritance contract does not face such limitations. It provides solid legal protection to the individuals party to the agreement and can help prevent legal disputes from arising, such as those that may result in the event of leaving a will.

Another case where an inheritance contract may be preferable is business succession planning. Entrepreneurs who have built a successful business may face challenging questions concerning inheriting the business. Whether they want to keep the company in the family, hand their share over to their business partners or look for another option, an inheritance contract is advisable in such scenarios.

Early planning and comprehensive documentation of the process are advisable.

At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, our full-service approach means that our lawyers provide advice on business succession planning requirements from German inheritance law and German corporate law perspectives.

Requirements for the Inheritance Contract

There are stricter legal requirements for the inheritance contract than for a will. Under § 2276 German Civil Code (BGB), an inheritance contract can only be deemed valid if a notary notarizes it. Therefore, parties can’t draw up their own agreements without professionals involved. The contract must also be in writing and signed by all parties involved.

The parties to the inheritance contract must have the full legal capacity to make such agreements.

Other requirements for the inheritance contract include the need to comply with German inheritance law, cannot violate public policy and must clearly state the distribution of assets and the legal rights and obligations involved.

There will be variations within the inheritance contracts with the contents of the individual agreements.

The contract should outline who is entitled to the testator’s estate. A prerequisite of the inheritance contract is that at least one binding disposition is made.

Such dispositions will vary between different cases as they can consist of a condition, decision or appointment made by the testator. An example of a condition would be that the heir will receive the property and assets of the testator, but in return, they will look after the testator in their old age.

To determine what conditions are possible within inheritance contracts, it is advisable to consult with an expert in inheritance law.

One contract element that can be agreed upon is a rescission clause whereby the testator can exit from the inheritance contract. Alternatively, there can be a clause allowing the testator to render the inheritance contract ineffective by a future will. However, both sides need to be aware of what they are signing, and an agreement from both sides is required.

Changing or Cancelling an Inheritance Contract

Compared to a will, an inheritance contract is more difficult to amend.

Parties involved cannot make spontaneous unilateral changes and must usually agree with the other contracting party. After all, it is a legally binding contract. Furthermore, the inheritance contract is generally kept in the possession of the notary, and therefore they must also be contacted regarding making such changes. It is always advisable to consult with a specialist in the field of German inheritance law before agreeing to sign an inheritance contract.

Similarly, annulling or cancelling an inheritance contract is possible; however, it can only be achieved in limited circumstances. Testators can include a clause allowing them to withdraw from the agreement, but they should consider legal advice in such matters before drawing up the contract.

Similarly, the heir should consult with an expert before determining whether having such a cancellation clause in the inheritance contract (der Erbvertrag) is to their advantage.

Other methods to cancel an inheritance contract can happen in the following situations:

  • Mutual agreement: If all parties in the contract agree to cancel it, mutual consent can revoke the contract. However, this change must be done in writing and before a notary.
  • Revocation by one party: If one party wishes to revoke the contract, they must do so in writing and before a notary public. However, the other parties can object to the revocation within six weeks.
  • Voidable: If the contract is voidable due to a legal defect, such as fraud, coercion or mistake, the contract can be cancelled by a court decision.
  • Rescission: If the contract was entered into under a mistake of fact or a misrepresentation of fact, the contract can be rescinded within a reasonable time after discovering the mistake or misrepresentation.