GREEK LEGISLATION ON INHERITANCE PROCEEDINGS
(Estates, Wills & Heirs)
- PREAMBLE (APPLICABLE LAW)
According to the Greek Civil Code the citizenship of the deceased determines the applicable national law on matters of inheritance, potential heirs and their percentages to the inheritance. In case the deceased had multiple citizenships, then Greek nationality takes precedence. In case the deceased did not have Greek nationality, then the laws of the nationality which the deceased had stronger relations with prevail. In case of no nationality, laws of the habitual residence of the deceased and finally the law of their residence are applicable.
Pursuant to articles 21 and 22 of EU Regulation 650/2012, which is applicable in Greece regarding succession of persons who passed away since August 2015 and onwards, the law applicable to the succession as a whole shall be the law of the state in which the deceased had their habitual residence at the time of death. Furthermore, a person may choose as governing law the law of the state whose nationality they possess at the time of their choice or at the time of their death.
- REGARDING THE CONTENT OF THE INHERITANCE
The inheritance consists not only of the deceased person’s real estate and movable assets, but also their liabilities (private debts, taxes due to the Public State, social security debts, loans etc.).
- PROVISIONS OF GREEK INHERITANCE LAW REGARDING SUCCESSION & TESTAMENT CATEGORIES
According to Greek inheritance law there are two ways of succession:
- a) Intestate succession in case there is no will (testament) drawn up by the deceased and concerns surviving spouse and blood relatives.
When the deceased has died intestate, certain relatives of the deceased become heirs by order of proximity and acquire joint ownership of all assets of the deceased (community of heirs). The heirs are grouped based on a rank or “class” system, with each rank taking precedence over the next one. In an intestate succession, thus, the descendants of the principal shall be called in the first rank. The nearer descendant shall exclude the more remote of the same strips. In the place of a descendant who is not living at the time of the opening of the succession, their own descendants shall be called in their stead (succession per stripes).
If no relatives exist in one class, then the estate passes on to the second class etc.:
- 1st class: Children of the deceased and the descendants of any pre-deceased child, with equal portions.
- 2nd class: Parents of the deceased, their siblings and the descendants of any pre-deceased sibling.
- 3rd class: Grandparents of the deceased or their children or grandchildren.
- 4th class: Great grandparents of the deceased.
- 5th class: The spouse’s inheritance right runs concurrently with the first four classes.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If a spouse inherits along with first class heirs, they are entitled to a percentage 25% of the inheritance. In all other cases, the spouse is entitled to receive 50% of the inheritance or 100% when no other relative exists. The spouse is also entitled to receive as accretion, independently of their rank, the furniture, utensils, clothes and other similar domestic objects that were being used either by the surviving spouse alone or by both spouses. However, when there are also living children of the deceased spouse, their needs are taken into consideration where applicable.
- 6th class: The Greek State.
- b) Succession by virtue of a testament
According to the relevant provisions of Greek Inheritance Law there are three basic types of wills in Greece:
- The holographic will. This type of will is handwritten by the testator in their language. The will is dated and signed by the testator and is free of any legal formalities. The testator has the right to give the will to a Lawyer or a Notary Public or any other legal agent for safekeeping.
- The public will. In this case, the testator declares verbally his last will before a Notary Public and in the precense of three witnesses or a second Notary Public and one witness. The witness must not be a relative of the testator, nor can they be mentioned as beneficiaries in the will.
- The secret (mystic) will. This type of will is handwritten or typed by the testator or another person and bears the signature of the testator. The testator hands the will to a Public Notaty in the presence of three witnesses (or a second notary and one witness), making an oral declaration that the document is their final will and testament.
All types of wills must be published to the competent Magistrate’s Court of the place of the deceased person’s last residence. In case of a public will (before a notary), the notary public is obliged to publish it to the competent court, as soon as they are informed of the principal’s death. In case of a private, written at hand will, the person possessing this will undertakes to initiate the proceedings for its publication. If the deceased was living abroad, the publication proceedings can be arranged either via a motion before the First Instance Court of Athens or through the Greek Consulate. Alternatively, if the will has been published by a foreign Court, it has to be registered to the First Instance Court of Athens.
- PROCEDURE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE HEIR’S RIGHT TO INHERIT
a. Preliminary actions (collaboration with land registries, municipality registries and Athens special registry)
Establishing the existence of a will
With the personal identification data of the deceased person, including the crucial information of the exact date of their death and the location of their last residence, a research can be conducted through the competent court secretariat to establish if the deceased had drafted a will before their death. The publication of the will is necessary so as to proceed to the stage of the inheritance acceptance.
Preparing the family tree and locating all potential heirs
The complete family tree and the marital status of the deceased are necessary so as to establish who is entitled to be called to inherit and estimate the proper inheritance portions based on the living inheritors and their rank.
To this end, collaboration with the competent Municipality Registry office/es is required, in order to search for the deceased’s family entry (“oikogeneiaki merida” in Greek). Proof of a heir’s right is also established by a special certificate called “next of kin” (“pistopoiitiko plisiesteron siggenon” in Greek), issued by the Municipality where the deceased was registered, provided that the interested relative is also registered to the competent Municipality family entry. This certificate can be also issued upon request via a Citizen Service Center (KEP).
- IMPORTANT NOTE: The registration of events, such as births, marriages and deaths from residents abroad are conducted before the Athens Special Registry of the Greek Ministry of Interior, which subsequently updates electronically the local municipality registry offices. This procedure can be concluded either via the Greek Embassy at the place of the heir’s residence either with the assistance of a lawfully authorized attorney at law and the submission of the necessary documentation directly to the Athens Special Registry. The latter process is speedier than the process conducted via the Embassy. To conduct such registrations, all certificates of events (marriage, death or birth certificates) to be registered must be notarized or legalized according to the applicable provisions per country (attestation with Apostille for countries that are members of the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961 or attestation by the competent public authority/ies in collaboration with the local Greek Embassy).
Regarding the research of properties
Irrespective of the purpose of the research, i.e. if it is conducted for the purpose of buying or inheriting a property, the status (ownership, legal burdens, securities etc.) of the property can be verified with a research in the competent Land Registry according to the exact location of the property, either based on the ownership title (which includes the names of the owners) or based on the full name and personal data (parents’ names included) of the alleged owner. Such research will extent also to all persons included in the deceased person’s family tree, so as to ascertain if any of the heirs have accepted their own portion to the inheritance.
The exact location of the properties (city, municipality) is crucial so as to ascertain the competent land registry for the research, especially since the Greek National Cadaster database is still under construction for many municipalities of the Greek State and the greatest municipalities of the country have multiple land registry offices.
b. The acceptance of inheritance
The last step for the heir is to accept the inheritance by signing the relevant notarial deed before a Notary Public, which will then constitute the ownership title, as soon as it is registered at the local land registry office or national cadaster. The acceptance of the inheritance is crucial in case there is interest to further sell or donate the property.
Supporting documentation and requirements
- In case the inheritor does not wish to travel to Greece, they can sign a Power of Attorney (PoA), authorizing an Attorney at Law to conclude on their behalf all the required procedural steps before the competent court, Municipality and Land Registry/Cadaster for the purpose of the research on the inherited property, as well as sign the notarial deed of the inheritance acceptance. Additional mandates may refer to real estate services and property management services such as, indicatively, identification of for-sale properties, negotiation with potential sellers, finding tenants, representing the principal in lease contracts signing and termination, collection of rents, handling security deposits, being responsible for maintenance and repairs etc.
- Every owner of real estate in Greece must hold a Greek Tax Identification Number (T.I.N.). Residents abroad need also appoint a specific person residing in Greece to act as their tax representative. The deceased person’s TIN is also required.
- A variety of documents and certificates need to be collected. Such documentation includes, indicatively, purchase contracts or other ownership titles of the deceased or their predecessors, death certificates, copy of any existing testament and its publication, certificates proving who are the closest surviving relatives or prove that no publication of will and no dispute of the heir’s inheritance rights has taken place. Pending registrations of births, marriages, deaths to the Athens Special Registry must also be concluded.
- Submission of tax declaration and payment of the Inheritance Tax (where applicable). The execution of any Notarial document, by virtue of which ownership on recently inherited properties is conveyed, is prohibited, without the prior documented tax clearance that there is no Greek inheritance tax due (tax free inheritance or payment up in full). Certificates regarding the settlement of the Single Real Estate Property Tax («ENFIA») for the previous 5 years minimum need also be collected.
- A civil engineer must be appointed in order to make an on-site visit of the Estate and investigate if there are illegal structures, since it is required to submit to the Notary Public a relevant certificate signed by the civil engineer that no illegal constructions exist, by virtue of Law 4178/2013 and current law in force 4495/2017, accompanied with contour or floor plans.
- Signing of the inheritance acceptance and registration of the notarial deed to the competent land registry/national cadaster.
c. Regarding the bank accounts
In case that the deceased was holder of bank accounts in Greece, the heir must comply with the different policy each bank may implement in order to approve the heir as the beneficiary of the deceased’s accounts.
The common documents that need be collected and presented to the bank are the following:
- Certificate of registration of the passing of the deceased person.
- Certificate of closest relatives of the deceased person.
- Certificate regarding non-insinuation of testament of the deceased person.
- Certificate regarding non-dispute of the inheritance right.
- Certificate regarding non-disaffirmance of inheritance.
d. Certificate of Succession (“klironomitirio”)
The issuance of a Certificate of Succession is suggested in cases that no certificate of next of kin can be issued and a specific certificate is necessary to confirm the right of inheritance and the portion attributable to a heir. A person who is qualified as an heir on the certificate of succession is deemed to have the right of inheritance referred to therein. A legal transaction entered into a person indicated as an heir in the certificate of succession with a third party is valid for the benefit of the third party except if the third party was aware of the inaccuracy of the certificate of succession or of its revocation by a court judgment.
Note should be made that by virtue of Regulation (EU) No 650/2012 (the “EU Succession Regulation”) which applies to all Member States, save for Denmark, Ireland and UK with regards to the succession of persons that pass away after August 17, 2015, a European Certificate of Succession is introduced for the scope of enabling heirs, legatees, executors of wills and administrators of the estate to prove their status and exercise their rights or powers in other EU countries. Once issued by the competent court, the European Certificate of Succession is recognized in all EU countries without any other procedure being required.
- SPECIAL PROVISIONS
According to the Greek Civil Code, a heir that wishes to renounce their hereditary right has to do so within 4 months from the date of death or publication of the testator’s will or from the day they were informed that they are called to inherit the ancestor following the renunciation of other ancestors in line of succession. For non-Greek residents or in case the deceased themselves resided abroad, the abovementioned time limit is extended up to 1 year from the above crucial dates.
Renunciation (“apopoiisi”) is performed with an official declaration to the Competent Court of the place where the deceased had their last residence. The official declaration must be submitted along with the following documents:
– Applicant’s identity card
– Death certificate of the ancestor
– Power of Attorney (PoA)
(optional) Certificate of the closest living relatives of the deceased at the time of their death.
Contesting a will in case the potential heir has grounds to believe that the will may have been falsified or may have been signed by a testator under threat or other circumstances influencing their actual intent, or a testator lacking capacity to sign (persons placed under judicial assistance, deprived of general legal capacity or specifically the capacity to draw up a will, persons lacking consciousness or spiritual or mental clarity affecting the functioning of their will etc.) can be pursued by filling a specific action before the competent Court of First Instance. Short limitation period for the enactment of this right is provided specifically for dispute of the will on grounds of fraud, threat or false belief.
A testator may generally disinherit any person, aside from a category of close relatives which are considered compulsory heirs by law. In specific, the law provides that the testator’s parents, surviving spouse and children cannot be excluded from the estate, unless there are certain grounds determined by law for their exclusion (in case there are children, parents can be excluded). These heirs are entitled to a minimum portion (compulsory share or “nomimi moira” in Greek) to the inheritance, which is half the share they would be entitled to in case of intestate succession. The compulsory heir has the right to file a lawsuit demanding the acknowledgement that their exclusion from the estate renders the will invalid, as well as file a lawsuit against the rest heirs claiming their hereditary portion (“agogi peri klirou”).
The determination of a compulsory share is made on the basis of the condition and value of the estate at the time of demise of the principal after deduction of the debts, the funeral expenses and the expenses relating to the inventory of the estate. To the above net assets of the estate are added all assets donated to the compulsory heir as well as any assets donated by the principal during the last ten years of his life except if the donation was made for reasons of decency or special moral duty.
In case the estate does not suffice to cover a compulsory share, the beneficiary of such compulsory portion or his successors may file an action against the done (recipient of the gift) or his heirs for the rescission of the donation to the extent necessary to cover the compulsory share. The right to file such lawsuit is prescribed two years after the demise of the principal.
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