How to obtain a certificate of inheritance in Germany

If estate assets are located in Germany German probate law applies - even if German inheritance law does not apply (Opens internal link in current windowcheck). The article gives an introduction to German probate law.


Why do I need a certificate of inheritance?

Pursuant to §  1922 BGB (German Civil Code) the heirs become owners of the deceased's estate upon his death (principle of “universal succession”). As succession to the estate occurs automatically by operation of law and the executor of an estate is basically unknown to German law it is often necessary to prove the heir`s right of inheritance, especially when immovable property is part of the estate. Basically this is why the heir generally applies for a certificate of inheritance (“Erbschein”).


What is a certificate of inheritance?

The certificate of inheritance states the identity of the heir and his respective share in the estate (§ 2353 BGB) as well as any limitations to the heir's power of disposition over the estate, which may result from the ties on preliminary and subsequent heirship (§2363 BGB) or from the appointment of an executor (§ 2364 BGB). Pursuant to § 2365 BGB, it is presumed that the person identified as heir in the cer­tificate of inheritance has the right of inheritance stated therein and is not subject to limitations other than those stated. Furthermore, § 2366 BGB protects those who acquire an item belonging to the estate from the person named as heir in the certifi­cate of inheritance in good faith. They obtain title even though the transferor is not the true heir, unless they had knowledge of the inaccuracy of the certificate.


Where do I apply for a certificate of inheritance in Germany?

Pursuant to § 2353 BGB, the heir may apply for the issuance of a certificate of inheritance to the probate court (“Nachlassgericht”). This court is usually located at the last residence of the deceased. If the deceased was German national and had no residence in Germany when he died, the probate court in Berlin – Schöneberg is competent to issue the certificate of inheritance.


Who is entitled to receive a certificate of inheritance in Germany?

A certificate of inheritance will only be issued to the heir and not to beneficiaries of a testamentary specific bequest (“Vermächtnis”) or the entitled person to a statutory forced share (“Opens internal link in current windowPflichtteil”).


Who applies for a certificate of inheritance in Germany?

For the issuance of the Erbschein, it is mandatory that at least one of the heirs or the Opens internal link in current windowTestamentsvollstrecker applies for the certificate of inheritance.


Please note: A personal represantitive who can`t be qulified as a testamentsvollstrecker may not be acknowledged in Germany and may not aply for a certificate of inheritance (Opens internal link in current windowmore information).


The application may be filed with the probate court, a German notary (“Notar”) or through the German Consulate. The applicant usually applies in the name and on behalf of all heirs.


How do I apply for a certificate of inheritance in Germany?

The application must be in German. All documents proving the right to inherit (e.g. last will, letters testamentary, death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates etc.) must be translated into German. Furthermore, the heir must declare in lieu of oath that he is unaware of any rights of other parties that may be in conflict with the alleged entitlement to the inheritance (see sample “Opens internal link in current windowAntrag Erbschein”).


Wichtiger Hinweis: Dieser Artikel dient nur der ersten Information und stellt keine Rechtsberatung dar, da diese nur unter Berücksichtigung aller Umstände des konkreten Einzelfalls möglich ist. Für Aktualität und Richtigkeit übernehmen wir keine Gewähr.


Kontakt: Sollten Sie eine verbindliche Rechtsauskunft wünschen, nehmen Sie bitte KONTAKT mit uns auf.


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