That spouses inherit everything anyway, but ungrateful children or the Polish nurse can’t get a cent – such rumors persist. Do you know what’s true instead? A lot can go wrong with inheritance, with or without a will.
It’s paradoxical. A gigantic 400 billion euros are left behind in Germany every year. But only about every fourth citizen manages to write down early on who should get what – only very few testators can do that perfectly, as Jan Bittler observed. He is a specialist lawyer for inheritance law and managing director of the German Association for Inheritance Law and Asset Succession (DVEV). Instead, most put their will on the back burner. Often in the mistaken belief that the life partner inherits everything anyway. Others write their last will down – but wrong. And many are convinced that they can change a Berlin will years later on their own – no such thing. The heirs often get caught up in half-truths and rumours. The rules surrounding wills and inheritance law are complex. Here are the seven most common pitfalls.
Married couples and partners are wrong if they believe that if one of them dies and there is no child, the other will inherit alone anyway. Because: If there is no will in which they appoint each other as sole heirs, the legal succession applies. And that says: Those who live longer inherit only three quarters. One eighth goes to the parents of the deceased. If both are dead, the siblings, half-siblings or grandparents inherit. Together with the widowed partner, they then form a community of heirs. This can get ugly. An example: A young couple is getting married. Shortly thereafter, the husband dies. The widow has the unloved parents-in-law as co-heirs overnight. And because they insist on their inheritance, she has to sell the newly acquired apartment and watch collection of the deceased and pay them off. Another example: A married couple has no children. The man dies at the age of 62. His parents are already dead. But he still has two brothers. They become joint heirs and demand their share. The widow has to sell the home to pay her off. No will, no sole heir. What helps? Make a joint will as soon as possible, ideally right after the wedding. There is no statutory right of inheritance at all for unmarried persons: those who have lived longer inherit only if this is expressly stated in a will.
Not correct. Spouses who have made a joint will (Berliner Testament) can only change it again together. One’s hands are tied. Typically, couples appoint each other as sole heirs and the offspring as final heirs. In the case of childless couples, nephews, nieces and aunts often inherit. This construction can become a problem after the first inheritance if one of the two dies and the longer living person no longer wants child A as the final heir, for example, but only child B. Or suddenly one of the grandchildren who is touchingly caring. Inheritance disputes are therefore inevitable. A joint will can only be changed after the first death if both parties had such a change rule from the beginning.
Not correct. Even if the father and mother are severely disappointed by the offspring, they cannot completely disinherit them via a will. It is a misconception that parents can leave their children empty handed in the estate. The son or daughter is always entitled to a compulsory share. Completely independent of how good or bad the contact with the parents was. Even if the mother and father overturn the legal succession in the will and use an animal protection association instead, the offspring with whom they have fallen out will usually not be without a cent. The compulsory portion is always half of the statutory portion of the inheritance and must be paid out in cash – even if the parents did not want it. Complete disinheritance is only possible in the case of serious misconduct by the children against their father and mother, such as a murder plot.
That’s not true. In principle, anyone can leave something in their will to their private carer, household help or, for example, to the neighbor who has been committed to looking after them for years. Whether money, stocks, jewelry, real estate. This can be bitter for descendants, but it is possible and effective – always provided that the will is formally in order. Even if the entire property is bequeathed to the caregiver, the descendants usually have to live with this decision. A challenge in court is often difficult to enforce. You still have the right to a compulsory portion. It’s a completely different story when someone lives in a retirement or nursing home and appoints the staff employed there as their heirs. Such a testamentary disposition is usually ineffective. Neither the stationary professional nurses, nor the home manager or the home management may be considered in the will. This is ensured by the home laws of the federal states and paragraph 14 in the nationwide home law.
Not correct. If the last will is to endure, it must also be handwritten today, from the first to the last word. Anyone can do this themselves, a notary or lawyer is not necessary. But: Getting smart beforehand helps to bequeath assets with legal certainty. If you sit down at the computer, you can save yourself all the effort. A typed will is invalid. Extra pitfall: If typed lists are attached to a handwritten will, the whole thing can become invalid. You can’t let others write because you’re not used to calligraphy yourself. An exception applies to joint wills: Here, one spouse can write the text, both sign below it, preferably on each page.
Not correct. Close relatives and registered civil partners often do not have to worry about inheritance taxes. Allowances protect them. A wife can inherit up to €500,000 from her deceased husband without paying taxes. Children may receive values of up to 400,000 euros tax-free from each parent, grandchildren up to 200,000 euros. Only with even larger fortunes is the Treasury on the mat. The situation is very different for heirs outside the nuclear family. Here the tax office holds out a lot more of a hand, namely when inheriting siblings, nephews, nieces, cousins, children-in-law, friends or non-marital partners. They are all only allowed to keep up to 20,000 euros tax-free. As a result, it can happen that even a transfer of assets between siblings can be expensive. If a woman leaves her sister with savings of 400,000 euros, for example, she has to pay tax on 380,000 euros. At a tax rate of 25 percent, a whopping 95,000 euros go to the tax office.
Inheritance is not automatically a reason to pop the cork immediately. For example, someone who leaves jewelry, a few shares and valuable porcelain can also face inherited debts and liabilities. Picking out the savings and the old furniture but rejecting the debt is not possible. Anyone who inherits Miese, for example from their parents, grandparents or sister, must answer for it. Very few citizens know that you either inherit everything – or nothing at all. Anyone who calculates the opposite and ultimately perceives the estate as ballast can refuse the inheritance. However, there is only a period of six weeks for this. It begins to run as soon as one learns of the death of the deceased. If there is a will or an inheritance contract, the clock starts ticking from the moment the disposition is opened. If the deadline is missed, the inheritance is automatically deemed to have been accepted.