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Inheritance Law

Wills and Inheritance in Greece

Drafting a will is a critical step in managing one’s personal affairs and ensuring that one’s assets are distributed according to specific wishes upon death. This legal document not only provides clear instructions for the distribution of assets ranging from real estate to personal property, but also helps to minimize disputes among surviving family members. Without a will, the distribution of assets is governed by Greek intestacy laws, which may not fully reflect the wishes of the deceased.

A will is especially important for those with dependents, as it can specify guardianship preferences for minor children, providing for their care and financial support in a manner consistent with the parent’s values and wishes. In addition, creating a will can reduce the burden of taxes and legal fees on an estate, preserving more of the estate’s value for beneficiaries.

Creating a will is a proactive way to ensure peace of mind, preserve assets, and protect the interests of your loved ones.

It is a fundamental aspect of financial planning that can have a lasting impact on an individual’s legacy.

We are here to assist you with all your legal needs regarding wills and inheritance law in Greece.

+30 2310 284408

+49 30 88702382

[email protected]

Reasons for having a will in Greece

Having a well-drafted will is important in Greece, as in many other countries, to ensure that one’s wishes are respected and fulfilled in the most efficient manner after one’s death.

A will allows you to take full control of the distribution of your assets and determine how your assets will be divided among your beneficiaries. Without a will, assets will be distributed according to Greek intestacy laws, which may not be in accordance with your wishes.

By clearly outlining the distribution of assets, a will can help minimize and prevent potential disputes among heirs. This is especially important in cases where there are substantial assets or complex family dynamics.

A will can reduce the need for lengthy court proceedings and expedite legal processes by providing clear instructions to the executor. The process of settling an estate, for example, can be streamlined and expedited with a will.

Beyond the distribution of assets, a will can include specific instructions for other matters, such as funeral arrangements or the handling of personal effects, and allows individuals to leave a legacy through charitable donations, which can also be part of tax planning.

Although Greece does not have high inheritance taxes for close relatives, a will can still facilitate better tax planning to ensure the efficient transfer of assets.

How to Write a Will

Writing a will in Greece involves several important steps to ensure that the document is legally valid and in accordance with your wishes. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the process:

  • Decide the type of will. The first step is to decide what type of will you want to make – a private, public, or secret will (more on this later).
  • Assess your assets and determine your beneficiaries. Consider what assets you have (real estate, money, investments, personal items) and who you want to inherit them. Think about the needs of your potential heirs and any special considerations (e.g., minor children, family members with disabilities).
  • Consult with an experienced Greek real estate lawyer. Given the complexity of Greek inheritance law, it is advisable to consult a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. An attorney can provide valuable advice on forced heirship, tax implications, and how to structure your will to ensure that your wishes are respected.
  • Draft the will. Whether you write your will privately or have it notarized, make sure it includes all the necessary elements. Clearly state your name, ID or passport number, and place of residence. State that this will revoke any previous wills, if applicable. Specify how and to whom your assets will be distributed. If you wish, name one or more executors to administer your estate.
  • Execute the will. For a private will, make sure it is completely handwritten, dated and signed. For a public or sealed will, you will need to see a notary.
  • Keep the will safe. If you’ve made a private will, keep it in a safe place and tell someone you trust where it is. Public and sealed wills are usually kept by the notary, who can ensure their security and confidentiality.
  • Review and update your will regularly. Circumstances change, so it’s wise to review your will periodically and make any necessary changes. This may involve going through some of the steps above, especially when significant life events occur (marriage, birth of children, acquisition of substantial assets, etc.).

Differences between “private”, “public” and “secret” wills

In Greece, wills can be divided into three main types based on the method of preparation and the level of confidentiality involved: private, public and secret. Each type has different characteristics and procedures for preparation and execution, and meets different needs for privacy, ease of preparation and legal security.

The choice of type often depends on the complexity of the estate, the privacy preferences of the testator, and the need for legal protection against potential future disputes.

Private Will

A private will, also known as a holographic will, must be entirely handwritten, dated and signed by the testator (the person making the will). It does not require witnesses at the time of writing.

After its creation, the testator can keep it in a private place or choose to deposit it with a notary or the appropriate court for safekeeping.

This type of will offers a high degree of privacy and flexibility, as it can be easily created without formal witnesses or legal assistance. However, its validity may be more vulnerable to challenge due to potential questions about the testator’s handwriting, date, or mental state.

Public Will

A public will is made with the assistance of a notary public in the presence of three witnesses or another notary public and one witness. The testator makes a verbal declaration of his wishes, which is then recorded by the notary.

The notary keeps the original will and records its summary in the public records, providing copies to the testator.

This type of will is generally more difficult to contest because of the formal witnessing and notarization process. It provides clarity and formal validity, but lacks the privacy of a private will because it becomes a public record.

Secret Will

A secret will is written by the testator or someone else on the testator’s behalf. It is then placed in a sealed envelope. The testator must declare before a notary public and three witnesses, or another notary public and one witness, that the document in the envelope is his or her will.

After the declaration, the will remains sealed and is kept by the notary, who registers it in the official records.

This type of will combines elements of privacy and formality. The contents remain private as long as the envelope is sealed, but the formal declaration before witnesses and a notary gives it credibility and reduces the risk of later disputes.

Risks of not having a will in place

Having a will is essential not only to ensure that one’s personal wishes are carried out, but also to provide clarity and support to heirs, minimize the risk of disputes, and potentially reduce the legal complexities and costs associated with settling an estate.

In the absence of a will, the distribution of an estate follows the rules of the Greek Civil Code, which typically divides assets among spouses, children and other close relatives in predetermined proportions. This may not reflect the personal wishes of the deceased, especially in cases involving stepchildren, unmarried partners or distant relatives.

In addition, Greek law may not adequately recognize or provide for persons outside the traditional family structure, such as close friends, unmarried partners or charitable organizations, unless specifically mentioned in a will.

Without a will that clearly dictates the distribution of assets, there is a higher risk of disputes among potential heirs. These conflicts can lead to lengthy and costly litigation, which can strain family relationships and diminish the value of the estate through legal fees.

Even without disputes, the absence of a will can result in a longer probate process-a delay that can be problematic for heirs who may need immediate access to assets for living expenses or to run businesses that were part of the estate.

A will can also allow for more effective tax planning. Without a will, there may be missed opportunities to minimize estate taxes or make strategic charitable gifts that could be beneficial from a tax perspective.

How to Exclude Assets and Persons from a Will

In Greece, there are specific restrictions and rules that must be followed due to the forced heirship provisions of Greek intestacy law.

While Greek law allows for some flexibility in the drafting of wills, the rights of certain heirs and the legal protections afforded to them mean that exclusions must be handled with careful legal consideration to ensure that they are effective and enforceable.

Greek law protects the inheritance rights of close family members (such as children and spouses) by designating them as “forced heirs”. They are entitled to a minimum portion of the estate known as the “reserved portion” (κληρονομηταίο μερίδιο).

Complete disinheritance of these heirs is generally not possible unless there are specific grounds for disinheritance recognized by law, such as the heir committing a serious offense against the testator or his family. These cases usually have to be proven in court, making total disinheritance difficult and rare.

A similar situation applies to the specific distribution of assets.

In a will, the testator can specify which assets should go to which beneficiaries. However, if these allocations violate the reserved shares of forced heirs, they can be challenged.

Some assets can be structured to fall outside the simple scope of probate (e.g., assets held in trusts or certain types of corporations), but this requires complex legal and financial planning.

On the other hand, assets such as life insurance proceeds and certain retirement accounts are not necessarily part of the estate subject to probate laws if beneficiaries are directly named in these instruments.

To effectively manage the inclusion and exclusion of persons and assets in a will while complying with Greek law, it is advisable to consult with a legal professional. A Greek inheritance lawyer can provide guidance tailored to your individual circumstances, especially when considering the exclusion of persons or the management of significant assets.

Why is it important to instruct an expert lawyer to draft a will?

Due to the complex nature of Greek inheritance law and the specific formalities required to ensure the validity and effectiveness of the will, it is essential to hire an attorney with specific expertise in Greek inheritance law to draft a valid and effective will, tailored to your personal and family needs, while complying with local legal requirements.

A Greek inheritance lawyer will help you with this:

  • Understanding forced heirship rules: Greek inheritance law includes forced heirship provisions that guarantee a portion of the estate to certain close relatives, regardless of the testator’s wishes. An experienced attorney can navigate these rules to help you plan your estate in a way that honors your intentions while complying with legal requirements.
  • Legal Formalities: The creation of a will in Greece must follow strict legal formalities. Depending on the type of will, there are specific requirements as to how it must be written, witnessed and kept. An experienced attorney will ensure that these formalities are properly followed to avoid any dispute as to the validity of the will after the testator’s death.
  • Tax implications: An attorney can advise on the tax implications of estate planning. This includes strategies to minimize estate taxes and make effective use of exemptions and deductions, which can significantly affect the value of the estate passed on to heirs.
  • Asset protection and management: Attorneys can help structure your estate to protect your assets from potential future disputes and ensure that they are managed according to your wishes. This may include establishing trusts or other legal structures to protect certain assets.
  • International considerations: For heirs with assets in more than one country, or for expatriates living in Greece, the complexities of cross-border inheritance laws come into play. An expert in Greek law, and possibly international law, can address these complexities to ensure that the estate is handled appropriately in multiple jurisdictions.
  • Specific instructions: Attorneys can help formulate specific instructions in the will, such as the care of minors, the management of a business after the testator’s death, or charitable donations, and ensure that these wishes are legally binding and enforceable.
  • Avoid disputes: A well-drafted will can reduce the likelihood of potential heirs contesting a will in Greece. An attorney can draft a document that clearly communicates the testator’s wishes and reduces ambiguities that could lead to legal challenges.
  • Updating the will: Estate planning is not a one-time task. An attorney can help you update your will when circumstances change, such as the acquisition of significant new assets, a change in marital status, or the birth of additional children or grandchildren.

* The information on this site is provided for the sole purpose of illustrating the subject matter. It in no way constitutes legal advice nor a substitute for individual legal advice provided by counsel. Each case is unique, presents unique circumstances, and should be evaluated in detail by an attorney who will verify its specific circumstances.

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Contact us if you would like to learn more about wills in Greece, or if you have decided to draft a will to secure your legacy.

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[email protected]

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