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German Law/german inheritance laws


QUESTION: My mother was born in Germany. She married and came to the US in 1948. She has one sister still in Germany. My mother and her parents had a disagreement and became estranged with her parents. My mother had continued contact with her sister in Germany. When my mother's parents passed away, her sister did not inform her of their deaths and made no attempt to inform the courts of her whereabouts. Several years later when my mother did discover their passing, my mother's sister claimed she did not know how to reach my mother, although my mother had lived in the same place for years and had corresponded with her sister from that address. According to German law, my mother lost any claim to her inheritance after 3 years following the deaths. There was real estate and other personal property involved. We don't even know if my mother was listed in the will or not, as we never saw a copy. Is there anything that can be done after 15 years or so? Was this fraud on the part of her sister?

ANSWER: Dear Ms. Larsen,

there is no simple answer to your question because for several inheritance claims different statutes of limitations apply. From the three-years-period you have mentioned I assume that your case is about the so called Pflichtteil (compulsory share) arising of a disinheritance in the grand parents` will. The start of the deadline for such claim would however require that the beneficiary obtains knowledge from the death of the deceased and of a will stipulating a disinheritance of the beneficiary. In case no information upon these facts has been given the statute of limitation is thirty years at maximum. However, as of the time of receiving knowledge the three-years-deadline would be applicable. Fraud would be a matter only if any claims based on the inheritance would have become time-barred.

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QUESTION: Thank you for your assistance and knowledge regarding this. I have another question. How would I obtain a copy of my grandparents's wills? If they had included my mother in their wills, would it be too late to make a claim?

All wills have to be delivered at the local court (Amtsgericht- Nachlassgericht) which is competent for the district where the deceased had his last residence. They open the will and send copies to anyone involved - provided that they are aware of their names and addresses. If there is no will the legal rules for inheritances would apply stipulating that the estate is distriboted equally among the children of the deceased. For any regular inheritance claim the statute of limitation is 30 years.

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Henning Haarhaus


I can answer questions in English, German and French. Practice in inheritance law, tax, labour and contract law for private clients. Services also rendered in the fields of business & commercial law; e.g. business organizations, contracts, debt collections, leasing law. Representing clients all over Germany. NO CONSULTANCY ON FAMILY AND IMMIGRATION LAW.


Working since 1999 in the forenamed fields. Henning Haarhaus` experience includes services in the legal department of Roedl & partner, the biggest tax consultancy firm of German origin. Appointed Bar Certified Tax Law Practioner in 2007.

Bar Association of Berlin, KIWANIS


German licensed lawyer and bar certified tax specialist

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