Spouses ought to be afforded financial security in the event of their partner’s death. Many married couples want this to happen and therefore prepare a joint will, also referred to as a “Berliner Testament” (Berlin will).
In the absence of a will or contract of inheritance, the rules of intestate succession apply. We at the law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that this generally means that the spouse inherits half of the estate and the children inherit the rest. However, this is not in line with the wishes of a lot of married couples who may first and foremost wish to initially provide their partner with proper financial security. In these instances, a will should be drawn up. A so-called “Berliner Testament” is particularly well suited to many cases involving married couples. In the case of this joint will, married couples typically mutually appoint each other as sole heirs and the children as final heirs. In practice, this means that only the surviving partner will inherit following the death of his or her spouse, and the children do not become heirs until after the second parent has passed away.
We at GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte have a great deal of experience in the field of succession law and are familiar with the advantages as well as the disadvantages associated with a Berliner Testament. A joint will provides spouses with proper security. This may prove to be especially important if the married couple owned a property. The use of property often gives rise to disputes, particularly in cases involving communities of heirs. That being said, a Berliner Testament has a strong binding effect, it being difficult to unilaterally amend the joint provisions.
In the event that only one spouse wishes to amend the will, he or she must send his or her partner a notarized withdrawal notice. If one of the spouses had passed away, it is no longer possible to amend the will. The advantage of this is that the final heirs, normally the children, remain the heirs. The disadvantage is that it is no longer possible to react to changing circumstances, e.g. if a row emerges within the family or the widowed partner remarries. It is possible to relax this strong binding effect by including appropriate clauses.
Those wishing to prepare a Berliner Testament should inform themselves about the legal consequences. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of succession law can offer advice.