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OLG Köln: Contesting acceptance of an inheritance on account of an error

December 2017

If an inheritance is not rejected within a period of six weeks then it is deemed to have been accepted. Notwithstanding this, it may still be possible to contest the acceptance of the inheritance.

As a matter of principle, an heir is not obligated to accept an inheritance. He or she has a period of six weeks after learning of their status as heir in which to reject the inheritance. Failure to reject the inheritance on time means that it will automatically be considered to have been accepted. Should the heir then decide he does not in fact wish to accept the inheritance, the only remaining option is to contest the acceptance. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that it is possible in exceptional circumstances to contest an inheritance on account of an error, as demonstrated by a ruling of the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Köln [Higher Regional Court of Cologne] from May 15, 2017 (Az.: 2 Wx 109/17).

In the instant case, the testatrix had passed away at the age of 47. Because she had left no will or contract of inheritance behind, her husband as well as both of her siblings became heirs in accordance with the rules of intestate succession. The sister rejected the inheritance immediately, whereas the brother did not. After the six-week period expired, the inheritance was thus regarded as having been accepted.

Shortly thereafter, the brother declared he was contesting the acceptance of the inheritance. In justifying this course of action he stated that he had not known the estate was overindebted. On the other hand, he had been aware that his sister had received a financial settlement in the amount of 100,000 euros roughly one year before her death and that her account had shown a balance of 60,000 euros a few months prior to her passing, which is why he assumed it was possible to recover some value from the estate. He claimed to have tried to obtain information from his sister’s husband regarding the whereabouts of the financial settlement, but to no avail.

The OLG held that the action brought contesting the acceptance of the inheritance on account of an error concerning the estate’s overindebtedness was justified, ruling that the brother had laboured under misconceptions relating to the makeup of the estate and was thus mistaken regarding an essential characteristic of the estate.

Having said of all that, contesting the acceptance of an inheritance is only possible in individual cases and not every error justifies bringing a challenge. It is not possible, for instance, if the heir has merely incorrectly valued articles belonging to the estate. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can advise on all matters pertaining to estates.

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