After the death of a German resident, the local court (“Amtsgericht”) opens the probate proceeding (“Nachlassverfahren”). As an exception, in Baden-Württemberg the transfer of the estate to the beneficiaries is handled by notaries.
The probate court notifies the beneficiaries of their interest in the estate. As an aside, correspondence with German authorities is in German language. German authorities are not required to consider documents in other languages.
The interest in the estate can either be in form of a bequest (“Vermächtnis”) or an inheritance (“Erbe”, “Erbschaft”). A bequest (“Vermächtnis”) relates to a specific item or a specific amount of money. By contrast, an inheritance means that the beneficiary is either the sole heir or part of a community of heirs (“Erbengemeinschaft”) that steps into the role of the decedent and takes over the latter’s rights, obligations, assets and liabilities.
If real estate is part of the estate, the probate court instructs the local land records office (“Grundbuchamt”) to enter the new owner’s name.
If the decedent was a resident of Germany or if the assets are located in Germany, even foreign beneficiaries have to pay inheritance taxes in Germany (“Erbschaftssteuern”). The inheritance tax rates and exemption amounts depend on the grade of relationship between the decedent and the beneficiary.