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German inheritance law

The German inheritance law, forming part of the civil law, determines an intestate succession. According to German law, children are first in line of succession. If the deceased leaves a spouse with whom he or she lived under the legal system of participation in the property acquired after the marriage (“Zugewinngemeinschaft”), the surviving spouse would be entitled to receive half of the communal estate. This provision applies unless a marriage contract was concluded. 

Please consider that a last will does not affect the so-called compulsory portion of the heir. This means it only has limited effects. Children as well as the spouse are entitled to such compulsory portion, which amounts to half of the legal claims. The heir designated in the last will is obligated to pay this compulsory portion cash in any case.

According to a reform of the German inheritance law, which came into force in 2010, family members who took over nursing care for the deceased are entitled to a higher portion of the inheritance. 

First order heirs are:  
Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren

Second order heirs are:
Parents, siblings, nephews/nieces

Third order heirs are: 
Grandparents, uncles/aunts, cousins

Stepchildren and foster children are not among the legal heirs. However, there is no difference made between children born in or out of wedlock. 

It is recommended to gather information about statutory tax exemptions in time. A gift might help to avoid unnecessarily high inheritance taxes. 
Please find more detailed information on this topic in the brochure published by the German Federal Ministry of Justice.
For information on the current legal situation concerning German inheritance law, please consult a notary public or a legal expert.