Husbands and wives can reciprocally appoint each other as sole heirs in a so-called “Berliner Testament” (Berlin will). However, married couples must also bear in mind that unilateral changes are not possible at a later date.
GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London - www.grprainer.com/en conclude: The so-called “Berliner Testament” presents husbands and wives with the opportunity to reciprocally appoint each other as sole heirs. It should, however, be noted with this kind of will that, similar to instances involving a contract of inheritance, unilateral changes are not possible at a later date. Even the spouse that lives the longest has to abide by the provisions of the Berliner Testament and is not able to rescind them later on with a new will.
A case before the Superior Court of Justice of Berlin demonstrates why the provisions of a joint will ought to be very carefully thought through, including with regard to the issue of “final heirs”. The case in question concerned a husband and a wife who reciprocally appointed each other as sole heirs. The “final heirs” were to be the son and daughter of the married couple. No further decision was reached regarding the line of succession. The wife died in 2008 and shortly thereafter the son as well. The husband, or partner, drafted a new will in 2013 disinheriting his children and grandchildren.
In its judgment of December 19, 2014 (Az. 6 W 155/14), Berlin’s Superior Court of Justice ruled that disinheriting the daughter was no longer possible and she was therefore entitled to half of the estate. In the view of the Court, the husband could no longer alter the declared will jointly made with his deceased wife. The situation was different regarding the second half of the inheritance. The child of the deceased son was not automatically entitled to this because the grandchild had been cut out of the will. This was possible due to the fact that the married couple had not specified any further heirs other than their own children in the joint will.
It is clear from this example that many eventualities need to be considered in cases involving a joint will between spouses. For this reason, married couples ought to obtain comprehensive legal advice before they draw up their will. To this end, they can turn to lawyers who are competent in the field of succession law.