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OLG Frankfurt: Contesting the renunciation of an inheritance on account of an error

November 2017

As a matter of principle, an heir has the option of renouncing his or her inheritance. Under certain circumstances, the heir can also challenge and revoke this renunciation.

Heirs are not obligated to accept an inheritance and can instead reject it. The inheritance needs to be formally renounced within a period of sex weeks after the accrual of the inheritance comes to light. Once the inheritance has been renounced, it is then very difficult to undo this at a later stage. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note, however, that it is possible under certain circumstances, as demonstrated by a judgment of the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Frankfurt [Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt] from May 4, 2017 (Az.: 20 W 197/16).

According to this, renouncing an inheritance is possible if the renouncing heir mistakenly assumes that by renouncing his or her share in the inheritance this share will then only go to his fellow appointed co-heir pursuant to the rules of intestate succession, as this means that the former is labouring under a misapprehension regarding a direct legal consequence of the renunciation, with this amounting to substantial error justifying a challenge.

This is exactly what happened in the inheritance case that came before the OLG Frankfurt. The testator had left behind a wife and a son. The son renounced the inheritance in the belief that his share would then automatically go to his mother and she would thus become the sole heir. However, the testator also had a brother who would have become a co-heir following the son’s renunciation of his share in the inheritance. The latter therefore contested the renunciation. The OLG Frankfurt ruled in his favour, stating that the son had not realized that in renouncing the inheritance a major consequence of doing so involved his share in the inheritance going to the person who would have become heir under the rules of intestate succession if he, the son, had not been alive at the time of the testator’s death, i.e. the testator’s brother in this case. The OLG held that this constituted a substantial error of law that justified the challenge.

A legal heir ought to thoroughly inform himself about the legal consequences of renouncing an inheritance before doing so, because contesting a renunciation is often extremely difficult. Those who do not wish to rely on the rules of intestate succession can prepare a will or contract of inheritance as a way of organizing the estate in accordance with their wishes. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can offer advice.

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