German Law/Improper Handling of German Uncle's Estate
QUESTION: Dear Mr. Haarhaus,
I have read the answers you provided on AllExperts.com and am very impressed, however, I have not found a question similar to the situation we are in, therefore this question.
My 89 year old Uncle died a week ago in his residence near Munich. His Wife died about 25 years ago. They had no Children. His Mother and Father (my Grandparents) are also deceased.
Over the years since my Aunt's death, my German Uncle has had one "girlfriend" after another, of his own age group, generally outliving them, but he never re-married.
My German Uncle had one Brother (my American Uncle), who died last year. His Wife (my American Aunt) is still alive. They have one Child (still alive), my American Cousin.
My German Uncle also had one Sister (my Mother), who died about 15 years ago. My Father is also dead. My Parents had four Children (all living), my Brothers and Sister. I am my German Uncle's only Godchild. I am around 60 years old, as are my siblings, all of us having been born about a year apart from each other and are all USA citizens.
My German Uncle lived and died near Munich and I believe that he was a German citizen. He moved to Germany from Bohemia, as a refugee/displaced person, after WW II, and stayed there. My Mother and my other Uncle also moved to Germany after WWII as refugees/displaced persons and eventually both moved to the USA and became USA Citizens.
Over the years, we had a very amicable relationship with my German Uncle. He visited and stayed with me a few times for extended periods in the USA and I took him and his Wife sightseeing along the East Coast and I paid for everything and also bought gifts for both of them. After his Wife (my Aunt) died, he promised me her jewelry upon his death, which was quite extensive and of the highest quality.
After his Wife died he visited and stayed with me again, this time with one of his "girlfriends", and once again I took him and his "girlfriend" sightseeing along the Southern Coast of the USA, and once again, I paid for everything and bought gifts for both of them. I also talked to him on a regular basis by phone throughout his life.
Starting in June of this year, in remembrance of his Brother's (my American Uncle's) death, I called my German Uncle and his then relatively new "girlfriend's" voice on the answering machine said he was on "Urlaub". My Uncle did not return my call, as he usually did, so I repeatedly called him and left urgent messages on his answering machine for a period of over 4 months. None of my messages were ever returned, despite my urgent pleas that my German Uncle contact me.
Finally, just a day or two before his death, his so-called "girlfriend" picked up the phone when I called, and acted surprised that it was me, almost as if she had accidentally picked up expecting someone else to be on the phone.
While I was talking with her and trying to find out about my German Uncle, and why no one had responded to my repeated phone calls over the past 4 months, she hung up on me 4 or 5 times. I called back persistently and she pretended something was wrong with the phone until the last time I called and we had a conversation that lasted for a while without any "phone problems". I guess she correctly realized that I would keep calling until I had a chance to talk to my Uncle. She told me my Uncle was sick, weak and didn't want to drink or eat much. She refused to let me speak to him.
As stated, my German Uncle died a few days later, or perhaps was even already dead. Who knows. No one will provide me with a Death Certificate.
A day after his death, my American Aunt called to let us know that a distant German relative of my German Uncle's dead Wife called to say that my German Uncle had died. I got her phone number and called her after first trying to call my Uncle's home to find out what happened, just in case his so-called "girlfriend" was still there. They did not live together, but when I had spoken with her she would not give me her phone number, so I had no way to contact her to find out what happened and to find out why he wasn't in a hospital if he was so sick, and more than likely dehydrated and starving to death.
I called my German Uncle's dead Wife's distant relative to try to find out what happened. It was like pulling teeth to get information from her. She told us my Uncle would be cremated and that I, my brothers, my sister, my cousin, and my living not-blood-line American Aunt didn't need to come to the funeral service to be held in a few weeks. She also stated that "everything had been taken care of" and that there was nothing more to be done regarding his Estate.
She also kept saying how great my Uncle's so-called "girlfriend" was, which I found strangely inappropriate.
Very vague information was given during this phone call. She told me that my German Uncle stated in his Testament that he had already given us enough during his lifetime, and that we (his nieces and nephews), his only surviving statutory heirs, would get nothing. I was in too much shock to say anything because I was still grieving at my Uncle's death, and because it completely contradicted what my Uncle had told me personally.
I emailed her a day or so later to find out what would happen to his personal effects, and the items he promised me but she never responded, and ignored my email and questions.
After doing some research on the internet, and reading all of the answers at the AllExperts.com site, I called her again and asked her who the Testamentsvollstrecker was, and she said she was, although she now seemed surprised I even knew what it meant.
I also asked what kind of Testament my German Uncle had. She said it was a hand-written holographic Testament, which I found hard to believe for an 89 year old man to do, and very convenient since no witnesses would have been required. When I asked when it was written, she said "about a year ago". I asked if he had other previous Testaments and she said "yes".
I asked the Testamentsvollstrecker who the Vermächtnisnehmers were and she said that because none of the nieces and nephews were even mentioned in the Testament, that I had no right to know, and so she refused to tell me.
When I asked if either the Nachlassgericht or the Amtsgericht could provide me a copy, she started getting very defensive and nasty and accused me of not being in touch with my German Uncle (a lie) and that is why he didn't mention the nieces and nephews in the Testament, and that we were not entitled to anything under German law.
The Testamentsvollstrecker stated that I had rarely called or contacted my German Uncle, which is totally contradicted by my many years of close contact with him, especially since he was my Godfather. We both really loved each other and got along very well, and he always told me that I was his "favorite".
It is also totally contradicted by the numerous urgent phone calls I made to my German Uncle in the four months leading up to his death, calls that his "girlfriend" either erased or never informed him of, in a deliberate effort to conceal his health condition from me, and to create the false impression that I was not calling him.
She (the Testamentsvollstrecker) also said that my Uncle had told his German "friends" that after his death they could come over to his residence after the funeral service and take whatever they wanted from his belongings as "remembrances of him", which included beautiful Rosenthal Figurines and a beautiful Rosenthal lamp (which he had promised me because I was his Godchild), porcelain tableware (probably Rosenthal or Hutschenreuter), silver, delft, jewelry, etc.
Also very strange is that very good and old friends of my German Uncle and of my Family who live in the Munich area as well had not even been informed of my Uncle's death, and had not even been invited to divvy up the spoils with the rest of the vultures after the funeral service. When I spoke to these old German family friends, they too thought something strange and irregular was going on.
The Testamentsvollstrecker admitted that my Uncle did not specifically mention these "rememberance gifts" in his Testament, nor were they included in any inventory of my Uncle's Estate. If that is the case, shouldn't these items fall under inheritances which result from statutory succession?
The Testamentsvollstrecker didn't seem to have a problem with my possibly taking any of my Uncle's less-valuable furniture, clothes, and photographs (many of which he borrowed from my Mother, but never returned), which she seemed eager to just get rid of. But she claimed that all the really valuable items, such as the jewelry, figurines, etc. "had already been spoken for, or claimed" by his "friends" even though they were not so-stated or listed in his Testament. However, his car, being traceable, would be sold and the proceeds given to the un-identified Vermächtnisnehmers.
I asked the Testamentsvollstrecker whether these items that everyone was taking or claiming, as well as the rest of my Uncle's personal belonging had been inventoried, as they are required to be under German law, and she replied that they had not, and acted as if they didn't need to be, and acted insulted that I had even asked.
The impression I got was that a select few so-called "friends" of my German Uncle were trying to steal as much as possible without having to pay any taxes and without those items being passed on to the rightful heirs, since these items were not covered in the Testament and therefore those people were legally not entitled to them.
In other words, the Testamentsvollstrecker has not done an inventory of the Estate that includes ALL of the possessions and my Uncle's so-called "girlfriend" and unknown others are looting his residence and have already even taken, among other things, the beautiful Rosenthal lamp, figurines, and jewelry which my Uncle had promised me and that is not mentioned in the Testament.
My Uncle and his late Wife always had the best of the best and now the possessions are just disappearing or have already disappeared.
I tried to find out what happened to his bank and savings accounts but was told by the Testamentsvollstrecker that since I was not named in the Testament (which she refuses to provide me a copy of) that it is "none of my business".
I find all these actions very strange because it is my understanding that there has to be an accounting for tax purposes going back ten years before his death up until the time the Estate is settled.
When I simply tried to find out the value of the Estate (which I suspect might be substantial otherwise those involved would not be so secretive about the whole matter, or it could be worth little, I have no idea), to see if it was even worth my while to fly over to Germany, the Testamentsvollstrecker refused to give me an answer because she said we were not mentioned in the Testament and were not the Vermächtnisnehmers.
This is contrary to what my Uncle told me a year or so ago stating that all his heirs, including me, would receive something by mail after he died telling us what we inherited.
The Testamentsvollstrecker claimed that she was prohibited by German law from giving me information about the size of the Estate and who the Beneficiaries were, however she did not seem to have any problem breaking German law by letting so-called un-named so-called "friends" beneficiaries loot my Uncle's residence of valuables without first doing an inventory of them, all in a effort to circumvent the German taxes, and even though no such provisions to dispense those items were made in my Uncle's Testament.
The Testamentsvollstrecker has also contradicted herself several times about the contents and terms of the Testament. During my first phone conversation she stated that my Uncle had indicated in his Testament that his immediate family (nieces and nephews, all who live in the USA) had all been specifically excluded in the Testament, while during my second phone conversation the Testamentsvollstrecker now stated that all my Uncle's immediate family were not even mentioned, which is why she refused to provide me with a copy of the Testament.
I asked the Testamentsvollstrecker what the so-called "girlfriend's" phone number was (because the so-called "girlfriend" had refused to give it to me herself earlier) and without thinking she gave it to me, so I started doing a search on her on the Internet. The "girlfriend" apparently lives just a few miles from where my Uncle's apartment was, which is in what is generally a lake-side retirement community area outside of Munich.
This so-called "girlfriend" also and has a social networking web page, including her phone and address, which confirmed how close she lived to my Uncle's apartment.
I do not know if she was actually "dating" or "helping take care of" my Uncle or if she does this routinely to get older, lonely, and sick men to leave her all of their possessions after coercing them to change their Testaments.
As to my German Uncle, as stated, I find it hard to believe he would even do a new hand-written Testament at his advanced age of around 89 years old, so maybe it is forged, or inconsistent, or improperly done, but in any case, it certainly is suspect. To do otherwise meant that his Testament would have had to have been notarized and done in the presence of the notary, something which would have left no question as to its authenticity. But, as stated, the Testamentsvollstrecker refuses to provide me with a copy of the Testament.
The "girlfriend" was allegedly with my Uncle when he died in his residence, which occurred after my Uncle allegedly refused to eat or drink any liquids for a period of time. Were that the case, my Uncle should have been hospitalized with an IV providing liquids and nourishment, a place where he belonged, instead of being at home, given his health condition.
All in all, my Uncle's death, and the circumstances around it, are extremely suspicious, especially since he was cremated so quickly after his death.
Frankly, I don't know what to do.
I don't know if the Police need to get involved, since someone who is claimed to have been as sick as my Uncle supposedly was should have been in a hospital, rather than be allowed to waste away at home without drinking or eating.
I don't know if the Holographic Hand-written Testament is even valid, or authentic, or if it even really exists at all, or if it was coerced or "written for him" by others who controlled his life at the time.
I do not even know the value of my Uncle's Estate since no one will tell me anything.
What I do know is that his valuable personal belongings and other valuables are being, or have already been, looted without any accounting or inventory taken, and that his bank accounts will probably be next.
I am not a greedy heir, but I suspect foul play, either involving my Uncle's death, or in the handling of his Estate, or in the reliance upon a holographic Testament that may or may not have been either forged or coerced by someone who was helping take care of him, his so-called "girlfriend".
I don't know what to do, if anything, or whom to turn to in Germany, but I think that whatever I do I should do quickly.
I know that there are various facts involved, but I thought I needed to explain all the details, in order to provide you with a better picture of the situation. Whatever assistance or answers you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much in advance.
ANSWER: I advise you to take action and to contact the
identify yourself and others as potential intestate heir of the deceased, ask for a copy of the will and the Testamentsvollstreckerzeugnis if existant. Maybe there is no Testamentsvollstrecker (executor) involved at all and they indeed have given you a runaround. And maybe there is even not a will or the will has not been delivered at the court. Indicate to the Nachlassgericht who claims to be Testamentsvollstrecker and heir.
Depending on the amount of assumed bank assets I would also advise to contact the bank(s) in writing and via facsimile immediately, tell them that according to your knowledge your uncle is dead, indicate your legal relationship to your uncle (and also name the other potential intestate heirs), tell them that you have not received a copy of the will by the Nachlassgericht so far and that you therefor assume to be co-heir and revoke any powers of attorneys granted by the deceased during his lifetime and finally inquire that no payments are effected to anyone until you have obtained a certificate if inheritance (Erbschein). If you do not know anything about your uncle`s bank connections just contact all of the usual suspects (Stadtsparkasse München, Bayerische Vereinsbank, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Postbank - adresses available in the internet), indicate that you do not exactly know if he kept a relationship with them and revoke powers of attorney as a measure of precaution.
The funeral parlor should send you copies of the death certificate. If you cannot get in touch with them you can apply for a copy here: http://www.muenchen.de/dienstleistungsfinder/muenchen/1063655/
If you want to prevent that movable assets are stolen you must come to Germany yourself. We have no probate here. Sio we have no state-appointed administrator.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Mr. Haarhaus,
Thank you very much for your prompt and very informative reply.
I have been doing a lot of research on the Internet based on the information you provided. It has not always been easy because it has been years since I’ve had a chance to practice my German, and the Internet Translation software does not always give very accurate translations.
Contrary to what she indicated she would do in earlier conversations, the alleged Testamentsvollstrecker has now asked for the date of birth and death of my Mother (my deceased German Uncle’s Sister), and the dates of birth and addresses of myself and of my Siblings, in order for her to give this information to the "Nachlassgericht", so they must have asked for that information, since we are the Level 2 Heirs.
The Death Certificate information has not yet shown up on the website you provided, but I have found out through a distant relative where my Uncle was cremated, so I will either wait for it to show up at the website you provided, or follow up with the funeral home which was not in Munich.
It may turn out that the size of my German Uncle’s Estate may not be worth the effort and cost to pursue. To determine that, I would hopefully get the Estate Value information from the Nachlassgericht, since it is my understanding that the Estate Value has to be declared for Tax purposes to the Nachlassgericht, or perhaps to some other German Agency. Is this correct?
Since my command of German is not good enough to draft or fully understand official correspondence, should the need arise that I would require a German Attorney, would you recommend that I retain an English-speaking German Attorney near Starnberg since that is where the Amtsgericht / Nachlassgericht would be, and if so, is there anyone you could recommend, or would you be able to provide the services required remotely from Berlin?
Thank you very, very much for your comprehensive knowledge of this subject, the very easily understandable clarity of your response, and the graciousness with which you so kindly and quickly responded to my question. You definitely have my vote for Expert of the Month!
With the utmost in gratitude.
The Nachssgericht is not in charge for the inheritance tax. Every single heir is responsible to file his respective return. Since there is no probate proceeding, the court has not an active function and informs on the status of the estate. It is up to the heirs to look after the estate themselves. Only a Testamentsvollstrecker would be legally obliged to set up an estate inventory without undue delay.