The European Certificate of Succession
Since August 17, 2015, the European Inheritance Law Regulation (Regulation/EUErbVO) is applicable to inheritance cases with an international European reference. The German certificate of inheritance was supplemented by this regulation with the European certificate of inheritance. Questions arise around this topic that are not only relevant for lawyers but also for everyday life. The most important and practice-relevant questions will be dealt with here.
- What is a certificate of inheritance?
- How does the European Certificate of Succession differ from the German certificate of inheritance?
- Which document do I need?
- Where is the European Certificate of Succession valid?
- Where do I have to apply for the European Certificate of Succession?
- What must the application contain?
- What costs will I have to pay?
- What should I do if the Certificate of Succession is incorrect?
- What is a certificate of inheritance?
A certificate of inheritance is an identity document that testifies to your status as heir or co-heir. Although you already assume the position of the testator with the inheritance and become the owner of the assets belonging to the estate. This does not require a separate act. A court does not have to establish that you have become the heir before you acquire ownership of the assets of the estate. In practice, however, you must regularly prove this to other persons in order to access the estate's assets. With the certificate of inheritance you can therefore prove to others that you are the heir.
The estate assets include the credit balance in a bank account to which you have not previously had access. With the certificate of inheritance you can identify yourself to the bank as the heir.
In many cases, the bank will insist on a certificate of inheritance, especially if the succession is not easy for outsiders to identify. If the bank were to pay out the balance to a person who is not the heir, you would not be released from your obligation to pay, you would have to pay the amount to the right heir and would bear the risk of not getting back the money paid out first. A certificate of inheritance creates a so-called "legal certificate" on which the bank can rely.
How does the European certificate of inheritance differ from the German certificate of inheritance?
The German certificate of inheritance is basically only valid in Germany. If you wanted to identify yourself with it abroad, you would have to expect that authorities, banks and other third parties abroad would not accept it. For this reason, the EU has introduced the European Certificate of Succession as a European Certificate of Inheritance. If you apply for this certificate of inheritance, it is valid throughout the entire EU (except Denmark, Ireland and Great Britain). This means that you do not need to apply for a separate certificate of inheritance in each member state.
This simplifies cases where the testator was usually living in another European country at the time of death or where his or her assets are located in several member states.
You are the sole heir in an inheritance case subject to Spanish law. The testator had his last habitual residence in Spain. It turns out that the testator has assets in an account in a German bank. You can now apply for the European Certificate of Inheritance in Spain and thus identify yourself as the heir in Germany.
It should be emphasized that the European Certificate of Succession is only valid for six months according to Art. 70 paragraph 3 EUErbVO. After this period, it loses its probative value and is no longer proof of inheritance. Once you have received the certificate of inheritance, it is therefore important to settle the inheritance matters quickly. Although special arrangements can be made in exceptional cases, it is usually necessary to extend the certificate of inheritance, which causes new costs.
Which document do I need?
Whether you need to apply for a German certificate of inheritance or the European Certificate of Succession depends on whether the estate has international references. An estate located solely in Germany does not require a European Certificate of Succession. Although a European Certificate of Succession would also have to be accepted in a purely domestic case of inheritance (Art. 62 (3) sentence 2 EUErbVO), from a practical point of view it is advisable to apply for a German certificate of inheritance, as public authorities and private individuals have more experience with this. As soon as you want to access assets in another European country, it is advisable to apply for a European Certificate of Succession.
The application for a certificate of inheritance is complex and always depends on the individual case. Errors in the procedure can lead to the certificate of inheritance being issued incorrectly or even not at all. The question of where to apply for a certificate of inheritance alone requires a lot of attention and mistakes must be avoided. We will be happy to help you to avoid these problems and to obtain your rights quickly.
Where do I have to apply for the European Certificate of Succession?
The certificate of inheritance is not simply issued by the probate court, but the heirs must take action. In accordance with Art. 64 of the EU Inheritance Regulation, heirs must apply to a court or other public body that is competent for inheritance matters under national law. In principle, the country in which the application must be submitted depends on where the testator had his habitual residence at the time of his death, Art. 4 of the Regulation. This depends on the circumstances of the testator's life.
The testator lives in Germany and spends a two-week vacation in Spain. During the vacation period the testator dies. No choice of law was made. Now the question is where the testator had his habitual residence. Therefore, the German courts are responsible for this case of inheritance and the European certificate of inheritance would have to be applied for at a German court.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. According to Art. 22 EUErbVO, the testator can choose which law of inheritance should be applicable to his or her succession (choice of law). In this case, the courts of the chosen state have jurisdiction if
- the court first seised declines jurisdiction at your request (Article 7(a) in conjunction with Article 6(a)),
- you and other heirs agree on the jurisdiction of a court (Art. 7 lit.b) in conjunction with Art. 5) or
- you and other heirs expressly recognize the jurisdiction of a court of the chosen State (Art. 7 lit.c).
Who can submit the application?
According to Art. 65 (1) in conjunction with Art. 63 (1) of the EU Inheritance Regulation, heirs, legatees with a direct right to the estate, executors of wills and administrators of the estate may submit the application for a European Certificate of Succession. This means in particular that no notary is required to submit the application. This applies even if the national law of a member state actually provides for this. In this respect, the Regulation "overlaps" with national law.
What must the application contain?
Art. 65 (3) lit. a-m) EUErbVO makes many demands on the content of the application. These include information on
- Spouse or partner of the testator,
- other possible beneficiaries,
- The facts on which the applicant bases his entitlement to the inheritance, contact details of the competent court,
- a possible will or inheritance contract of the testator,
- a possible marriage contract of the testator,
- a disclaimer or acceptance of the inheritance by an entitled person and
possible inheritance disputes.
In order to comply with these requirements, you can optionally use a form provided by the EU.
It is also important to note that you must provide appropriate evidence of the facts you wish to have confirmed with the certificate. To this end, all relevant documents must be attached to the application, either as the original or as a copy which fulfils the necessary requirements for its probative value, Art. 65 (3) EUErbVO. The details of the procedure are governed by the national law of the respective Member State. Therefore, it is recommended, especially at this point, to seek advice in order to avoid mistakes and to obtain your rights quickly. We are happy to help you in this respect and can also refer you to lawyers in other member states.
What costs will I have to pay?
The costs for the granting of the European Certificate of Succession are based on the national law of the issuing member state. They are therefore different in each member state. In Germany, the costs are based on § 40 (1) sentence 1 no. 2 of the law on costs of voluntary jurisdiction for courts and notaries (GNotG). The costs are calculated according to the amount of the inheritance, whether co-heirs wish to join the certificate of inheritance and whether an affidavit must be taken. Further costs arise if you have a translation of the certificate of inheritance carried out by a sworn translator.
What should I do if the certificate of inheritance is incorrect?
As explained above, the facts of the case must be documented accordingly when applying for the certificate of inheritance. Nevertheless, it is of course possible that the Certificate of Succession does not correctly reflect the actual succession, e.g. if a new testamentary disposition becomes known later on, which the parties involved were not aware of when the Certificate of Succession was issued. If you discover that a Certificate of Succession is incorrect, you should inform the authority and follow the procedure laid down in the relevant Member State to invalidate the effects of the Certificate of Succession. In this case you should seek legal assistance as a matter of urgency. We will also be happy to help you in this case and support you in enforcing your interests.