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Heirs within a patchwork family

July 2018

Patchwork families, also known as blended families, are no longer a rarity today, yet succession law has yet to adapt to this development. According to the rules of intestate succession, stepchildren come away empty-handed.

Society has changed substantially over the last few decades. In addition to the traditional family model, patchwork families have also established themselves. It is common for one or both partners to bring children into the relationship. While the new partner assumes the role of a parent in practice, succession law continues to make a distinction between biological and stepchildren.

We at the law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that biological children are automatically entitled to inherit according to the rules of intestate succession. The same is true for adopted children. In the case of patchwork families, the decision is often made to forego adoption. This means that the stepchildren have no legal right to inherit in the event of succession. If there is a desire for the stepchildren to inherit, the testator must set forth this wish in a will or contract of inheritance. How he or she divides the estate among the heirs in doing so is a decision that is left up to him or her. Notwithstanding this, it is important to note that biological children are entitled to the compulsory portion of the estate in any case.

Thus, if the intention is for the biological as well as stepchildren to inherit, the testator needs to prepare a will or contract of inheritance. An elegant solution to this is a so-called “Berliner Testament” (Berlin will). Here, the spouses mutually appoint each other as sole heirs and typically designate their children as final heirs. This means that both the married couple’s biological children in common and the biological children of only one of the partners to the marriage are accounted for.

Having said all of that, it needs to be borne in mind that a Berliner Testament has a strong binding effect and it is generally no longer possible to unilaterally alter joint provisions if no clause to this effect has been agreed in the will. If one of the spouses passes away, the other remains bound by the joint provisions.

When drawing up a will, it should therefore always be borne in mind that people’s situation in life can change fundamentally. It is equally crucial for the wording of a will to be clearly and unambiguously formulated, such that it leaves no room for interpretation and thus prevents disputes among the heirs from arising.

Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can advise on all matters pertaining to wills and contracts of inheritance.

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