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Intestate succession of relatives

The provisions in §§ 1924 sqq. of the German Civil Code stipulate the rules of intestate succession. These rules apply for blood relatives but in certain cases also for legal relatives, e.g. adopted children. The law distinguishes between several degrees of relatives: The descendants of the deceased form the first degree of inheritors. Since the entry into force of the Act for the Inheritance Law Equalisation on April 01, 1998, illegitimate children are entitled to inheritance equally. Should one of the descendants be predeceased his place is taken by his descendants (grandchildren). Should there be no descendants the predeceased descendant´s share is assigned to the other inheritors and their shares augment accordingly. In the event that the decedent himself does not leave behind any descendants his parents are called to succession. Parents and their descendants form the second degree of inheritors. Should one parent be predeceased the brothers and sisters of the deceased would step into their parent´s shoes.

The following examples may illustrate the impacts of the forenamed principles in real life:

  1. Mr. Emil Elch died at the age of 65 years and his wife Berta predeceased already. The couple remained childless. Mr. Elch did not write a will and at the time of his death only his mother Frieda and his sister Mrs. Meier are still alive. The latter and her husband have elected a community of property as matrimonial regime and due to risky transactions of her husband the couple is highly indebted. As no testament exists Frieda and Mrs. Meier are equally called to succession because the sister takes the place of her predeceased father. However, Mrs. Meier´s share is in jeopardy to be pledged by the bank. As a consequence, everyone is well advised to draw a will even if there are no children.
  2. Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein would like to transfer real estate to their son Sebastian as a gift. He serves the German Navy and plans to build a one-family house after his return. However, Sebastian and his girl friend have an son (Robert) who was born out of wedlock. Sebastian dies in an accident. According to the rules of intestate succession rules Robert would be sole heritor. Sebastian´s parents would not participate because as inheritors of the second degree they are precluded by his child. In order to secure a reassignment to themselves Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein should have either stipulated a clause within the donation certificate reserving their right of reclamation or Sebastian should have written a will.


Children inheriting with the same quota are obliged to adjust imbalances caused by advancements, fundings or grants exceeding the reasonable support received by one child or by nursing services incurred by one child. Such adjustment may result in a significant deviation of he legal share in the inheritance. The other children have respective rights of information.