What is a compulsory share of the estate in German law of succession?

What is a compulsory share of the estate in German law of succession?

A compulsory share of the estate is …

an obligatory part of the inheritance without a last will.

What does this mean? Behind the compulsory share is the very old, traditional notion that the closest relatives – the children- of the deceased should not be left without getting anything after the death of their ancestor (parents). The idea comes from Roman Law and varies in its details on a large scale between the continental European countries.

Section 2303 of the German Civil Code governs that if the testator has excluded his/her children in  his/her last will, they still should inherit something. This part – the compulsory part – is half of what they would have inherited had the testator not disposed in the testament. 

The rules for the compulsory share are a clear restriction of the free right of the citizens to testate in the way they ever wish. Yet the law is strict, to deprive somebody of his obligatory part is very difficult. The Civil Code says: 

„Section 2333

Deprivation of a compulsory share

(1) A testator may deprive a descendant of his compulsory share if the descendant

1.  makes an attempt on the life of the testator, of the spouse of the testator, or of another descendant or of a person similarly close to the testator,

2.  is guilty of a major offence or of a serious intentional minor offence against one of the persons designated in no. 1,

3.  wilfully violates the statutory obligation to the testator incumbent upon him to maintain the testator, or

4.  is finally sentenced to at least one year’s imprisonment without probation because of an intentional criminal offence and participation of the descendant in the estate is hence unreasonable for the testator. The same applies if the accommodation of the descendant in a psychiatric hospital or in a withdrawal clinic is finally ordered because of a similarly serious intentional offence.

(2) Subsection (1) applies with the necessary modifications to the revocation of the parental or spousal compulsory share.“

(Translation taken from the official compilation of German laws by the Federal Ministry of justice – Gesetze im Internet. The full translation of the German Civil Code can be found here.)

As you can see from the law, it is very hard to take anyone´s right to the compulsory share. Yet heirs try to do so often by not informing or falsely informing the one entitled about what is in the estate. To enforce your right is often very difficult, particularly when you live abroad, do not speak the language and/or do not know the law. 

If you need any help, do not hesitate to contact us!

Dr. Donat Ebert

Ügyvéd - Rechtsanwalt (HU, D)

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