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If an in Germany living relative dies, the situation can get exceptionally difficult because you inherit abroad according to a legal system you are not familiar with.

Or do you live in the US, but you are still a German citizen and you would like to set up a will? Similar questions may come up when you yourself want to bequeath someone abroad.

These various scenarios beg the question which law will govern inheritance law issues.

The attorneys with Rinne Legal will be able to explain all options available in order to find the right solution on your specific circumstances. ​


German private international law refers to the law of the country of which the testator was a citizen of at the time he died. This means that an in the US living German citizen still has to follow the German rules if he or she wants to set up e.g. a will. Therefore, German citizens being moved to a foreign country and still holding their citizenship should be aware of the particularities of the German inheritance law. So, the decedent needs to know that according to German inheritance law, children (and parents if, according to the individual circumstances, they are entitled to inherit) cannot be totally disinherited. If the testator does not appoint them heir, they have the right to claim a compulsory share.

German private international law also states that the testator is allowed to choose the application of German inheritance law for immovables located in Germany although he or she is not a German citizen in form of a testamentary disposition. Such a choice of law is not possible when it comes to stipulations about movables.


When a person deceases and he or she has not made any contractual stipulations or set up a will, intestacy rules as provided for in the German Civil Code will determine the case. All heirs will become joint owner of the estate. German inheritance law only states who will inherit and what abstract share he or she may claim.

If the deceased was married, according to German intestacy rules, the spouse will become heir together with descendants (children, grandchildren etc.) of the deceased. So, e.g. in cases where there is a spouse and two children, the spouse will succeed ½ and every child ¼ of the estate if the spouses used to live in community of acquisitions. Though, the German Civil Code does not provide how to distribute assets among them.

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