German-American Inheritance Case

Currently, we are representing a client in an unusual cross-border inheritance case that is about to be settled within short.  When the German-American client was young, she emigrated to the US.  Her sister had stayed in Germany until her death, and passed away a few years ago.  She left real estate in Germany, movable property and savings accounts with a bank in Europe.  Her sister, our client, did not know much about inheritance law in the „old country“.  She has learned how the law is in the jurisdiction where she lives now since more than 50 years, and the differences in the legal systems between the US and continental Europe are too big to just try to wind up an estate „across the pond“.  For instance, in Germany the heirs become successors to all rights and claims and debts of the deceased by operation of law; the heirs do not need to do anything about it.  Our client is not the sole heiress to her sister, there are some co-heirs in Germany who took advantage of the long distance to the domicile of our client.  She contacted us when she wanted to retain the services of a law firm, because a dispute arose between her and the co-heirs about the grave marker:  The co-heirs did not want to spend money on fulfilling the deceased’s last will to have a headstone in the shape of an open book.  When we started to check the facts of the case, it turned out that there were about 30 parcels of real property in the ownership of the community of co-heirs, and the co-heirs in Germany had somehow managed to avoid that the emigrated co-heir has learned about this valuable property.  The next surprise was that the co-heirs did not want to buy the land and dwelling houses, and neither did they agree to sell them.  So we applied for an auction of the real property, and to the surprise of everyone the proceeds from the auctions and the balance of the bank accounts was about €2.5 million.  Now we are having a final fight over the distribution of this money, albeit the last will clearly says that each stripe of the families shall get an equal share.  The fight is about (A) the co-heirs’ misunderstanding of German inheritance tax law (they are afraid they might have to pay our client’s tax duties, which is not so in Germany) and (B) the one last cent that cannot be divided by 3, and the co-heirs are not willing to agree on the distribution of the estate funds until the issue about last one cent will be settled.  But there are ways to solve such unusual arguments, if you know the details about German estate law and litigation in Germany on an expert level.  This case shows how important it is to chose a specialized lawyer who is experienced in German law and who also knows your language and your legal system to explain the situation and the possible legal steps for having a good chance to be successful.


Anwaltskanzlei Stefan Mannheim • Filderhauptstraße 20 • 70599 Stuttgart • Germany • Phone +49 (711) 230 6800 • E-Mail info@kanzlei-smannheim.de

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