22. Aug 16

Succession in patchwork families

While what are sometimes referred to as patchwork or blended families are no longer unusual today, succession law continues to lag behind social change. For this reason, those concerned ought to give thought to preparing a will early on.

GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: In the absence of a will or contract of inheritance, an estate is distributed among the heirs according to the rules of intestate succession. It should be noted here that German succession law has been around for several decades and does not reflect societal changes. This can prove to be detrimental, particularly in the case of patchwork families. The new family may find itself left out if the testator failed to leave behind a will, as pursuant to the rules of intestate succession it is the spouse and biological children who inherit first. Even distant relatives might be entitled to make certain claims, whereas stepchildren who are not adopted are not even able to assert claims to a compulsory portion.

Anyone who wants to prevent this from happening, e.g. in order to provide their new partner or stepchildren with financial security, really ought to draw up a will or contract of inheritance. In doing so, heirs who are not entitled to statutory claims are able to receive a share in the estate as well and the rules of intestate succession can be circumvented. Having said that, it is, of course, important to take account of claims to a compulsory portion as well as other legal regulations and provisions. To prevent disputes from arising among the heirs, it is vital that the testamentary dispositions be worded as clearly as possible and allow no scope for interpretation.

For a will to be valid, one needs to observe a number of formal rules. For example, a will should always feature an unambiguous heading which makes it clear that this is the testator’s final will. Moreover, it is imperative that the will be personally signed by the testator and specify the location and date.

In principle, anybody who does not want their estate to be subject to the rules of intestate succession should prepare a will or contract of inheritance. This is the only way of accounting for individuals, associations or foundations that by law would otherwise not be entitled to a share in the inheritance. Lawyers who are competent in the field of succession law can provide further assistance when it comes to matters pertaining to wills or contracts of inheritance.

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