German Probate Law and Estate Planning

German Probate Law and Estate Planning

We specialize entirely in German probate law and estate planning. We consult with a view towards the overall tax and civil law situation. This is particularly important for tax issues; and, in disputed matters or matters with a foreign domicile, knowledge of several legal systems can be essential. Our services include: 

Support for Estate/Probate Proceedings in Germany

We advise and assist clients acting as executors or trustees of common law jurisdiction (including U.S.A., England & Wales, Singapore, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong) with regard to German law.  Our services include:

  • Obtaining recognition of validity from German probate courts for international wills and the issuance of German Letters Testamentary (Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis) for foreign executors
  • Assisting with obtaining German Certificate of Heirship (Erbschein) for estates of foreign nationals or domiciliaries
  • Providing legal representation for foreign heirs, beneficiaries, executors, administrators and trustees of estate in connection with obtaining assets held by German banks, insurance companies and financial institutions, passing both through or outside of probate
  • Assisting with the preparation and filing of German estate, inheritance, and gift tax returns for German and foreign heirs and beneficiaries to ensure recognition of payments of foreign gift and estate taxes in Germany and deduction of such payments from any German estate, inheritance and gift tax liabilities
  • Representing executors, administrators, heirs, beneficiaries and trustees before German probate courts and taxation authorities, including obtaining tax clearance for the release of German assets passing to foreign heirs and beneficiaries and defending against claims of unwarranted German estate, inheritance and gift taxes
  • Consulting regarding the structuring and timing of distributions from foreign trusts by foreign trustees to German resident beneficiaries to minimize any German inheritance and gift tax liabilities

Support for Estate/Probate Proceedings in Common Law Jurisdictions

We also advise clients in foreign estate / probate proceedings on any questions pertaining to German inheritance law.  Our services include providing Affidavits in Foreign Law (German Law) and Legal Opinions on German law in foreign contentious probate proceedings. 

Representation in Contentious probate proceedings in Germany

We represent German and foreign beneficiaries as well as executors and trustees in contentious probate proceedings in German courts, e.g.

  • Forced heirship claims under German law (Pflichtteil)
  • Will contest on the grounds of Undue Influence and Lack of Mental Capacity (e.g. dementia or paranoia).
  • Dissolution of community of co-heirs (Erbengemeinschaft)
  • Dismissal/removal of executors
  • Contentious Determination of heirs (Erbenfeststellungklage)
  • Injunctions

Representation in Contentious Trust matters

Although no trusts exist under German law in the strictest sense, there are some German legal instruments that are similar to Trusts (e.g. Dauertestamentsvollstreckung, Vor- und Nacherbschaft, Stiftung, Treuhand) and German courts may interpret foreign trusts the equivalent of German legal instruments. We represent German and foreign trust beneficiaries as well as Trustees in German courts, e.g

  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
  • Accounting
  • Removal of Trustee (z.B. “Dauertestamentsvollstrecker”)
  • Trust Modification
  • Trust Termination

International Estate Planning

We frequently advise clients from common law jurisdictions in all matters connected with international estate planning, including, but not limited to:

  • Reviewing existing wills
  • Designing and drafting international wills and German testaments
  • Structuring foreign trusts to avoid or minimize German inheritance tax (Erbschaftssteuer) liabilities
  • Advising on the use of Payable on Death accounts and the appointment of successor beneficiaries to allow for the transfer of assets outside of probate
  • Advising on foreign estate and inheritance taxes (e.g. English IHT, U.S. federal estate tax, Canadian CGT) and  Double-Taxation Treaties
  • Preparing living wills (Patientenverfügung) and health care proxies for foreign nationals / domiciliaries.
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