What is an “Erbschein”?
According to German law, the estate (located in Germany) of a deceased person comes under the principle of “universal succession”, meaning that the heirs become owners of the deceased person's estate upon his/her death. The executor or administrator under South African law is basically unknown to German law. In order to establish a person's status as heir, one usually requires an “Erbschein”, which will be issued by the competent surrogate court in Germany and names one or several joint heirs.
By applying for an “Erbschein”, the heir indicates that he/she accepts the inheritance. In some cases, for example if the estate is insolvent, it may be advisable to renounce the inheritance instead. If the inheritance is not renounced in time, one has become the heir.
Do I Need an “Erbschein”?
This depends on the case and on what kind of estate there is in Germany. Please check with the bank or the land registry office where the bank accounts and/or real estate is located in order to ask whether or not an “Erbschein” is required.
How Do I Obtain an “Erbschein”?
The application must be made in person or in form of a notarised application to the surrogate court in Germany. If you are abroad, the written application can be prepared and notarised by the German Embassy/Consulate.
Application for an “Erbschein”
It is absolutely necessary to submit ample documents and certificates and extensive information on the family situation of the deceased to the Embassy/Consulate
- Fully complete the questionnaire (mark “no” or “n/a” if not applicable)
- Submit the completed questionnaire and scans of the required documents (see below) by email to the German Mission at your place of residence: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- On the basis of the questionnaire and the scans the consular officer will prepare the document and offer you an appointment for notarisation.
- It is advisable to appoint a person in Germany to receive court correspondence and the “Erbschein”, once issued.
- You must submit the notarised application, together with certified copies of the supporting documents, must be submitted by you to the competent surrogate court in Germany. The court will ask for an additional fee for the “Erbschein”.
Required Documents and Certificates
Documents and certificates must generally be presented in the original. Only on rare occasions a copy may suffice. Note that the surrogate court in Germany may request South African certificates to be furnished with an Apostille
Please read and observe the list of required documents in the questionnaire
Note: Last Will and Testament:
If the deceased left a last will and testament, it would often have been necessary to hand it in at the South African High Court in order to administer the estate in South Africa. An original may then no longer be submitted to the German surrogate court, however, a simple copy of the will is not sufficient. The last will and testament must be presented as a certified copy issued by the Master of the High Court and bound with the Master's certificate “for use outside of the Republic”. The Master will not only bind a certified copy of the will, but also a death certificate and a letter of executorship with this certificate “for use outside of the Republic”. A South African attorney might assist you in obtaining the last will and testament in this form.
Last wills and testaments that are not in the German language must be furnished with a German translation.