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Amendments to will valid despite lack of a signature

January 2018

In exceptional circumstances, retrospective amendments to a will may be valid even in the absence of a signature. That was the verdict of the Kammergericht (KG) Berlin [Berlin Court of Appeal] in its ruling of March 28, 2017 (Az.: 6 W 97/16).

It is not uncommon for a number of years to have gone by between the date the will was prepared and the death of the testator. It is therefore very much possible for the testator’s wishes to change over this period of time for various reasons. Moreover, he or she is not bound by their testamentary dispositions from before. That being said, we at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that amendments or additions to a will normally need to be accompanied by a handwritten signature for them to be effective.

However, a judgment of the Kammergericht Berlin demonstrates that there are exceptions to this rule. According to the ruling, handwritten amendments can be valid even if they are not each accompanied by a signature but instead the beginning of the will features a signed general annotation regarding the amendments.

The case in question concerned the will of an unmarried and childless testatrix. She added the comment “mit Änderungen und Streichungen von mir” (with amendments and parts removed by me) to the beginning of the will where the date was specified and included her signature. She then failed to add her signature to the individual changes she had made. Following the death of the testatrix, a dispute emerged concerning the validity of the amendments to the her will.

The KG Berlin confirmed the validity of the will. The Court came to the conclusion that all of the amendments had been made by the testatrix herself. She drew attention to these and added her signature at the beginning of the will. The typeface of the amendments was said to match the testatrix’s handwriting. The KG also noted that the amendments were internally consistent and distributed the testatrix’s estate without any contradictions or gaps left over. The Court held that it is not necessary for the signature to be the last act in preparing the will. It went on to say that retrospective amendments need not be signed as long as they merely appear to be covered by the existing signature.

Having said all of that, it is generally safer to sign each of the amendments to a will to ensure that the testamentary dispositions are in fact implemented and no dispute emerges among the heirs. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can advise on issues pertaining to estates.

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