06. Jul 16

Always open mail in inheritance cases

It is particularly easy for disputes to arise in cases involving communities of heirs. Anyone who refuses to accept an official or notarial letter in the context of inheritance disputes may end up drawing the short straw.

GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: Succession law can sometimes prove to be complicated and challenging. It is particularly easy for disputes to arise among the heirs when it comes to communities of heirs. If a notary becomes involved for the purposes of mediation, it is important that his mail be read. Otherwise, the heir in question may well end up drawing the short straw. That was the verdict of the Oberlandesgericht Zweibrücken (OLG) [Higher Regional Court of Zweibrücken] on November 4, 2015 (Az.: 8 W 9/15).

While preparing to wind up and distribute the estate, the heirs, the son and two grandchildren of the testatrix, brought in a notary to mediate the inheritance disputes. The notary did his job, creating a so-called “Auseinandersetzungsplan” (settlement plan) and sending this together with an invitation to all of those involved. This did not appear to interest the testatrix’s son, who did not read the letter and instead sent the letter back to the notary with a note stating “ungeöffnet zurück” (return unopened). The other two heirs approved the notary’s settlement plan. The subsequent appeal brought by the testatrix’s son against this decision was dismissed by the OLG Zweibrücken.

According to the Court, the fact that the son had sent the letter back to the notary without reading it constituted a refusal (in bad faith) to acknowledge the contents of the letter to his own detriment. He could not plead that he had not received the documents. It held that the hearing date for settling the estate had been properly communicated. The OLG went on to say that the complainant’s failure to attend this was solely his responsibility.

In order to prevent disputes among the heirs at a later date, the testator can set out his testamentary dispositions in detail in a will or contract of inheritance. In doing so, it is important for the dispositions to be worded in as much detail and as clearly as possible, taking into account the relevant statutory regulations, e.g. those concerning claims to a compulsory portion, so that they can be implemented in accordance with the wishes of the testator.

Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can advise on all matters pertaining to wills and contracts of inheritance.

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