International Estate Planning 101: The Grant of Probate

When you find out that you may be a beneficiary to assets or property in Germany or another European country, you likely have lots of questions. Probate is considerably different in Europe than it is in the United States, and it’s important to be familiar with the process, its steps, and requirements at each step.

What Is a Grant of Probate?

The Grant of Probate, in some cases also referred to as Certificate of Succession, is a document provided to either the executor of an estate or to the heirs directly, depending on whether an executor has been named in the will. A Grant of Probate confirms that the person named in the document is authorized to handle the estate by paying debts, collecting assets, and distributing assets to approved beneficiaries. Without this document, the executor cannot take over the estate or manage it.

The Inheritance Process in Germany

In Germany, as in many other European countries, inheritance law does not require the appointment of an executor or the court-supervised administration of an estate. German citizens can name an executor for the estate administration in their Will, but most people do not do so. German law allows for an estate to pass automatically to heirs through the principle of direct and universal succession. Except for very simple small estate cases, banks, insurance companies, and others usually request an Erbschein prior to disbursing assets or property to beneficiaries. The Erbschein, which translates to “certificate of inheritance,” indicates that the person trying to claim assets is entitled to them.

How to Get a German Erbschein

Anyone who may be an heir to the decedent can apply for an Erbschein. The process becomes more complicated when there are multiple heirs, since there may be disagreements about the validity of the Will, each beneficiary’s right to an inheritance, the sizes of the respective shares, or the mental state of the decedent at the time the Will was written.

Getting a Certificate of Executorship

The Erbschein is by far the more common option in Germany, but there are some who name an executor in their Will. In most cases where the decedent had made a Will in the USA, the US executor of the estate also serves as the German executor. Before an executor can manage the German estate, they must apply for—and be awarded—a Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis, also known as a German certificate of executorship.

Navigating the Probate Process in Germany

For those living outside Germany and are unfamiliar with German law, the process of obtaining an Erbschein or Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis can appear overwhelming. Furthermore, navigating these issues from a distance, across significant time zone differences and in a foreign language often proves to be a challenge. Many Americans inheriting property or assets from German decedents choose to seek legal counsel in Germany. This allows heirs to receive their assets without working directly with the German legal system. Furthermore, German legal counsel can help heirs handle other estate issues, including inheritance taxes.

If you’re the heir to German property and assets, it’s important to move quickly to avoid losing your inheritance. Reach out to Graf & Partners, LLP to find out how we can help.

The following two tabs change content below.

International Probate by Graf Legal

The team at Graf & Partners, LLP offers extensive experience in many areas of international law, putting them in a unique position to help American clients who own property in multiple countries or inherit property from loved ones abroad.

Latest posts by International Probate by Graf Legal (see all)

%d bloggers like this: