General information on the German inheritance process
Are you an heir to the estate of someone who has died, and the estate is (partly) in Germany? To be able to access an estate in Germany, you often need to submit a certificate of inheritance (Erbschein) issued by a German probate court, a European Certificate of Succession (ECS) or a certificate of executorship.
This is particularly the case when the deceased has left real estate in Germany. In this case the land register needs to be updated. Banks, insurance companies and similar organisations also commonly ask for proof of succession in the form of a certificate of inheritance or an ECS.
A certified copy of the will filed with the probate court together with a record of probate proceedings may suffice in place of a certificate of inheritance/ECS in the case of a notarial will or a deed of succession in which the heirs are precisely designated.
If there is no will, or only one that was drawn up abroad with grant of probate, and if the estate includes assets situated in Germany, a German certificate of inheritance may not be necessary if the heir can prove his or her right (e.g. vis-à-vis banks) by another means. There is no legal obligation on the heir to prove his or her right of inheritance by means of a certificate of inheritance.
If a certificate of inheritance is nevertheless required, the heir can apply for a certificate of inheritance by writing directly to the German probate court. It is also possible to apply through a solicitor. If there is more than one heir, it is normally sufficient for one of the heirs to apply for a joint certificate of inheritance, provided it states that the other heirs have accepted the inheritance.
The competent probate court is usually the local court for the district in which the deceased was last resident.
As a rule, the information provided in the application not only needs to be proved, it also needs to be confirmed with a declaration in lieu of an oath (Section 352 of the Act on Proceedings in Family Matters – FamFG), which needs to be notarised either directly by the competent probate court (Nachlassgericht) or by a notary (Notar) in Germany. If the heir or executor is resident abroad, the declaration can also be notarised by a specially authorised German consular officer. However, not all missions abroad have officers possessing this authorisation. Unfortunately, because of the extra work caused by Brexit, this service offer at the Embassy in London is very limited and long waiting times are to be expected.
In individual cases the German probate court may also accept an affidavit sworn before a British notary public as sufficient if it is certified with an apostille. The notary public can obtain this for you. Please be sure to enquire with the German probate court in advance whether an affidavit issued in the United Kingdom in line with local law would be recognised as sufficient in your case, and if possible also agree the text with the probate court.
Under German law, the estate of a deceased person (Erblasser) passes directly to the heir or heirs (known as universal succession). Unlike in the United Kingdom, there is not a personal representative who takes care of the administration of the estate in the first instance.
A separate declaration stating that the inheritance has been accepted is not required. In some cases, though, for example if the estate is overindebted, it may be advisable to renounce the inheritance. To do this, the heir must declare to the probate court within a specified period that he/she renounces the inheritance. The heir is automatically deemed to have accepted the inheritance unless he/she has formally renounced it within the specified period.
The certificate of inheritance shows the legal succession and proportional rights to the inheritance, but not who is entitled to the individual items forming part of the estate. Where there is more than one heir, they initially form a community of heirs and have to decide on the distribution of the estate themselves, possibly with the help of a notary, if the estate includes real estate.
The German missions abroad cannot provide detailed legal advice in individual inheritance cases or on inheritance tax matters. We recommend that you contact a specialist lawyer or tax consultant or the tax office on such matters.
A list of lawyers in Germany specialising in German inheritance law can be found here.
A list of English-speaking lawyers and notaries in Germany can be found on the British government website here.
A list of German-speaking lawyers specialising in British law can be found here (London - in German only): Anwaltskanzleien in London mit deutschsprachiger Rechtsberatung; Rechtsberatung und Rechtsverfolgung in Großbritannien
and here (Edinburgh):
Law firms in London that also offer legal advice on inheritance cases in Germany:
The following details are based on the information available to the Embassy at the time of writing. The Embassy accepts no responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of these details, particularly as circumstances may have changed since the time of writing.
The list of solicitors and other legal advisers below is non-binding and subject to change. When instructing a lawyer, the client himself/herself has to cover all expenses and fees incurred.
The law firms are listed in alphabetical order. The information about the solicitors’ specialist areas has been provided by the solicitors themselves and the Embassy cannot guarantee that it is correct or complete.
Irwin Mitchell LLP
Keystone Law LLP
Kingsley Napley LLP
Tel: 020 7814 1200
Redeker, Sellner, Dahs
German law only
Solicitors’ fees are not officially regulated in the United Kingdom, but are based on time spent. Good law firms may well charge an hourly rate of £300 or more. Indeed the top rates in London are considerably higher. Conditional fee agreements are common.
(Last updated: December 2023)