By Iliana Kosti
Simplicity is not a word that can describe the Greek bureaucratic system. Given the additional fact that most inheritances face complex legal issues, two case scenarios are examined in order to help Greek-American heirs have a clearer picture of the procedure in case property in Greece is inherited.
CASE SCENARIO A: A U.S. resident or citizen inherits property in Greece by virtue of a will. Which Law applies? Is there a deadline for accepting an inheritance?
In this scenario, the critical questions to be answered are 1) where was the main residence of the deceased, 2) was the deceased a citizen of Greece, or of the United States, or both, 3) was the property inherited via a Greek will or a United States will. Depending on the answers, Greek law or Unites States law may apply.
The Greek Civil Code acknowledges three types of will:
- The handwritten will, written entirely by the testator. This can be on piece of paper, which can be kept even in a drawer, but there is the risk of its being found years after the death of the testator. This is still a very popular type of will in Greece. The date and the verification of its content must be clearly stated by the testator and it must be signed by the testator.
- The public will, which is executed before a Notary Public in the presence of three witnesses.• The secret will. The testator delivers the document of the will (which can be already sealed or can be sealed by the Notary Public) to the Notary Public, in the presence of three witnesses.
If there is a Greek will, it needs to be published before the competent court or before the competent Embassy or Consulate official. The notary who holds the public will must, upon being informed of the death of the testator, and within a reasonable time, send a copy thereof to the competent Court, and if it is a secret will, to deliver the original in person to the Court of the region in which it is based. In case there is a handwritten will, the possessor, once informed of the death of the testator, must initiate the publishing process for the will. If there is a United States will only, it must be examined to see if it will be recognized in Greece. If there are wills in both countries, which one takes precedence must be examined.
CASE SCENARIO B: A U.S. resident or citizen inherits property in Greece in intestacy (succession by law). Intestacy applies in cases where there is no Greek will, or when the will has been totally or partially nullified, or in the case that the will concerns only a part of the deceased’s inheritance in Greece. Who will be called as his legal heir? Is there a deadline for accepting an inheritance?
According to Greek Law, which relative will be called as heir depends on the succession class to which the relative of the deceased belongs. The classes are divided as follows:
- In the first class the surviving spouse and children of the deceased or the grandchildren of the deceased if the children have predeceased are called.
- In the second class, the surviving spouse, the parents and siblings of the deceased and if they have passed away before the deceased, their children and grandchildren are called.
- In the third class, the surviving spouse and the grandparents (or the great grandparents if the grandparents have predeceased) are called.
- In the fourth class the surviving spouse and the great grandparents are called.
- In the fifth class, only the surviving spouse is called (if all the above have predeceased or do not exist) and if the spouse has also predeceased or there is not one, the Greek State is the only heir.
There is no deadline for accepting an inheritance in Greece, but there is one for the renouncement of the inheritance right. The deadline expires a year after the will’s probate by the competent Court or Consulate for the heir who resides abroad, or in case the deceased resided abroad at the time of the death, or if the heir was informed of the passing while residing abroad. If the heir does not renounce the inheritance within the above said deadline, it is conferred that the inheritance has been accepted. An Acceptance of Inheritance Deed needs to be signed before a Notary Public, followed by the legal registration in the Land Registry or the Land Registry Cadastral. Also, a tax statement must be filed.
Iliana Kosti, LLM is a Greek lawyer at the Rhetor Law Firm, Athens, Thessaloniki, which specializes in complex inheritance legal and property issues in Greece. Visit: www.rhetor.gr.