Refusing an Inheritance in Germany

Refusing an Inheritance in Germany

The loss of a close relative often involves emotional burdens and legal, financial and organisational difficulties concerning the inheritance. At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, we understand that the decision to refuse an inheritance in Germany can be a difficult one. However, it is essential to understand that under German law, individuals have the legal right to refuse an inheritance if they so choose.

Whether due to financial constraints, family conflicts, or personal beliefs, our team of experienced attorneys is here to guide you through the process and ensure that your rights and interests are protected. If you require specialised legal assistance regarding refusing an inheritance in Germany, please do not hesitate to contact us directly.

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Reasons for Refusing an Inheritance

In principle, no one is obliged to inherit against their will, which is vital because heirs often inherit without their intervention or unknowingly.

The testator’s inheritance is transferred to the heir by law through a will, inheritance contract or legal succession, initially under § 1922 German Civil Code (BGB). The heir receives not only the assets but also the debts and other liabilities of the deceased. In principle, they must also pay these out of their private assets. The heir is, therefore, initially liable not only for the inherited property.

Refusing an inheritance, therefore, makes sense if the estate is over-indebted. The heir should quickly obtain a detailed overview of the legacy to determine whether the estate is over-indebted.

All the components of the estate should be compared. These include valuables, real estate, bank balances, securities, loans, maintenance arrears, claims to a compulsory portion (Pflichtteil), funeral expenses and any additional costs for the opening of a will or administration of the estate.

Heirs may also seek to refuse an inheritance due to the potential of family conflicts, tax reasons or personal beliefs (moral or religious reasons).

After successfully refusing the inheritance, it is transferred, together with the debts, to the next person in succession. Therefore, you should ensure that you also waive the inheritance for your underage children.

The “Annahmefrist”: the Deadline for Refusing an Acceptance

Under § 1943 German Civil Code, the heir can no longer refuse the inheritance if they have accepted it or if the period prescribed for refusal has expired. On the expiry of the period for rejecting the inheritance, the inheritance is automatically deemed to have been accepted.

Thus, for an inheritance to be successfully rejected, it is necessary not only to consider the form and the time limit but also to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that might indicate acceptance of the inheritance.

In principle, an acceptance of the inheritance can also be present when a confirmative action is taken. For example, an heir may be deemed to have accepted an estate if they take possession of inherited assets, use the inherited assets, benefit from them, or wait too long to refuse them.

The “annahmefrist” (period of acceptance) is usually six weeks but could vary depending on the situation. If the heir does not refuse the inheritance within this period, it will be considered accepted.

Situations where the period of acceptance can vary or be excluded, may include where the heir is a minor, under guardianship or where they are not in a position to decide. In situations where the heir is not a resident of Germany, the period of acceptance can be extended.

The Form of Inheritance Refusal

In Germany, the refusal of acceptance of an inheritance should be done in writing and must be made within the “annahmefrist” (period of acceptance) which is typically six weeks, but could vary depending on certain situations. The heir must make a formal declaration of refusal in writing.

The declaration should be addressed to the executor of the will or the probate court and should specify that the inheritance is being refused. The court with jurisdiction is the court where the testator was a resident.

When refusing the inheritance, the heirs should include their reasons for refusing the inheritance in their declaration. The declaration of refusal should be notarized to ensure that it is legally binding.

Avoiding Conflicts when Refusing an Inheritance

If the decision has been made to reject the inheritance, the refusing heir must consider several aspects to avoid conflicts and to be able to complete refusing an inheritance.

The heir should refrain from doing anything that might indicate that they have accepted or intend to accept the inheritance. This includes, first, disposing of objects of the estate and acting as their new owner.

In particular, the heir cannot choose individual assets and refuse individual obligations. Refusing an inheritance always refers to the entire inheritance or the entire inheritance share. Thus, if the heir expresses in any way conclusively that they wish to become the legal successor of the testator, this can be seen as an acceptance of the inheritance.

The information required to research the estate at the testator’s bank offers particular potential for conflict. For information on the deceased’s bank account, banks generally require the death certificate and/or the certificate of inheritance to be presented. 

When applying for the certificate of inheritance, the heir makes a conclusive declaration that they want to accept the inheritance. As a result, the rejection of the inheritance under § 1943 BGB is no longer possible.

The Federal Court of Justice found a solution to this problem in its 2013 ruling. It emphasised that financial institutions cannot insist on presenting a certificate of inheritance when requesting information. It is sufficient for heirs to prove their status as heirs to the bank with the death certificate or other means.

As a precautionary measure, the testator can also provide the heir with a power of attorney for the account or a precautionary power of attorney extending beyond death.

More general steps to include when refusing an inheritance include the following:

  • Communicate clearly in writing to notify all relevant parties, such as the executor of the will and other beneficiaries.
  • Refuse the inheritance within the “annahmefrist” (period of acceptance), which is typically six weeks, to avoid any legal complications.
  • Be respectful: Even if you have a strained relationship with the deceased or other members of the family, it’s important to
  • Before refusing an inheritance, it’s important to consider the potential consequences, such as how it may affect your relationship with other family members or your financial situation. It is also essential to respect and consider their feelings when refusing an inheritance.

If you require legal support in matters concerning refusing an inheritance, please do not hesitate to contact our team directly. Our lawyers will advise you regarding the legal consequences of the refusal and about resolving conflicts that may arise when refusing an inheritance.

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Practice Group: German Inheritance Law

Practice Group:
German Inheritance Law

Dr. Thomas Bichat

Lawyer | Salary Partner

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