Administration of the estate in Germany

In contrast to the Anglo American legal system, German probate law provides that the beneficiaries acquire legal ownership without any transfer or distribution by a personal representative. The administration of the estate and the distribution is left to the "Opens internal link in current windowErbengemeinschaft" (community of beneficiaries / co-heirs). However, the testator may appoint in his will a “Testamentsvollstrecker”. The article outlines the legal framework of a German “Testamentsvollstrecker” and points out basic diffences to an anglo – american “executor” and “administrator”.


Basic tasks, rights and duties of the Testamentsvollstrecker

According to § 2203 BGB the Testamentsvollstrecker is called to execute the testamentary dispositions of the deceased. Unless otherwise provided by the testator, his tasks include the administration (§ 2205 BGB) and the distribution of the estate (see § 2204 BGB). In order to do so the Testamentsvollstrecker is entitled to take possession of the estate and is entitled to dispose of estate assets (see § 2205 section 2 BGB). The beneficiary (Erbe) cannot dispose of estate assets subject to the administration of the “Testamentsvollstrecker” and any acquisition of such assets from the heir is void, unless the person acquires the asset in good faith (see § 2211 BGB). The Testamentsvollstrecker is entitled to incur obligation with effect for the estate to the extent necessary for the proper administration of the estate (see § 2206 BGB). The Testamentsvollstrecker is exclusively entitled to undertake legal action with respect to the estate (see § 2212 BGB). However, creditors of the estate may direct their claims either against the Testamentsvollstrecker or against the beneficiary (§2213 BGB). The Testamentsvollstrecker is obliged to administer the estate in a proper manner and is obliged to follow the instructions of the testator (§2216 BGB). The Testamentsvollstrecker is liable for any damage resulting out of a breach of his duties (§ 2219 BGB). The Testamentsvollstrecker may claim a “reasonable remuneration” unless otherwise provided by the testator (§ 2221 BGB).


Modifications of the tasks, rights and duties of the Testamentsvollstrecker by the testator

In principle the tasks, rights and duties of the Testamentsvollstrecker are subject to modification by the testator (see §§2207-2209, 2216 I 2 BGB). The testator may appoint a Testamentsvollstrecker only for the administration certain estate assets or in order to ensure the fulfillment of a testamentary burden (see § 2223 BGB).


Extended administration of the estate (“Dauertestamentsvollstreckung”)

In the most cases the Testamentsvollstrecker is only called to administer the estate until the estate assets are distributed to the heirs (so-called 'Abwicklungsvollstreckung'). However, the testator may provide in his will that the Testamentsvollstrecker administers the estate for longer periods (so-called 'Dauervollstreckung'; see § 2209 BGB) in order to fulfill certain tasks, e.g. protection of the property of underage children. Such a Dauertestamentsvollstrecker may be comparable to a US estate trustee.


Supervision of the Testamentsvollstrecker

The Testamentsvollstrecker is not obliged to report to the probate court (Nachlassgericht) and the Nachlassgericht has in general no right to supervise the administration of the Testamentsvollstrecker or give him instructions. However, the Nachlassgericht may dismiss the Testamentsvollstrecker upon appli­cation if the Testamentsvollstrecker seriously breaches his duties (see § 2227 BGB).

The Testamentsvollstrecker must provide to the beneficiaries an estate inventory without undue delay after accepting the appointment. The beneficiaries can claim be present when the inventory is made. According to § 2218 BGB has the right to claim information from the Testamentsvollstrecker. Furthermore the Testamentsvollstrecker is obliged to account to the beneficiaries at the end of the administration or – in the case of permanent administration – at the end of the year.


Does a personal representative qualify as Testamentsvollstrecker in Germany?

Opens internal link in current windowIf German law is applicable, an administrator or executor who is under the supervision of a foreign court can not be acknowledged in Germany.  However, if foreign law applies, some German courts have hold, that a personal representative may act in Germany (Opens internal link in current windowmore information).




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2009 © Jan-Hendrik Frank (Rechtsanwalt und Fachanwalt für Erbrecht)