You do not live in Greece, but you’ve recently been informed you may be entitled to an inheritance in this country. What do you do? Before contacting an attorney who practices law in Greece, it’s advisable that you think about your answers to the initial questions the attorney will ask you. Having the answers beforehand will help the attorney better assist you in outlining what needs to be done in Greece, so that you can claim what you are entitled to.The first questions will be about the name of the deceased (including parents’ names, if you know them) and his/her relation to you. If you are a relative or not is important to establish any intestacy or forced heirship rights, irrespective of whether there is a will or not.
The place of death is another initial question which will establish matters of private international law, as well as the time limit to file the inheritance tax declaration in Greece, if one is required. For any person who passed away before 1995 and no one has already filed an inheritance tax declaration, there is zero inheritance tax to be paid, no matter how big or valuable the estate may be.The place of birth of the deceased is another matter which is required in order to find out his/her citizenship of birth, which will determine to a great extent the law of which country will be applied to establish who inherits and what percentage. The deceased may have acquired another citizenship, apart from the birth citizenship, and this will also be taken into consideration, but under Greek law, if the deceased had the citizenship of Greece and of another country, it is the Greek citizenship which prevails in order to determine who are the heirs and what are their shares.
The place of residence of the heir is also important, because if the heir resides outside of Greece, or the deceased died outside of Greece, the original four-month period from the passing to accept or renounce the inheritance is automatically extended to twelve months. If nothing is done after the expiration of the four or twelve months from the passing, the heir is considered having accepted the inheritance and this may not be a good thing, in the rather unusual case where the estate had liabilities which are higher than the assets.
The closer relatives of the deceased will be another issue, which in most cases will have to be sorted out. We may need to know who the children, spouse, or parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and cousins of the deceased are at the time of his passing. Anyone claiming an inheritance is not required to know all these names. If a spouse and/or children exist, you do not have to declare siblings or cousins etc. If the deceased was survived by a spouse, but not by children, under Greek intestacy law we need to know the siblings and the children of deceased siblings. But if the deceased did not have Greek citizenship, the rules change, and we will need the written opinion of an attorney from the country of the citizenship of the deceased, to enlighten us who inherits what shares under that country’s law.
In most cases two witnesses will be required to sign a simple affidavit about the names of the closer relatives. We will also have to find the birth certificate and possibly the family record of the deceased, if he/she was born in Greece. If, however, the deceased was not Greek, we may not need the two witnesses and the closer relatives of the deceased will be determined by the documents provided from the country of citizenship of the deceased.
Even if the deceased did not have Greek citizenship and it is the foreign law which determines who inherits what, it will still be Greek law which will be applicable to transfer ownership and to pay taxes for assets located in Greece.
The next important question will be about the existence of a will; if a will exists, and if yes, where it was drawn up, where it was executed, in what form it exists and whether it has already been probated, in Greece or elsewhere. If it is probated in another country, it must be probated it in Greece, as well, and in that case we will need it in certified form, either with the Apostille stamp attached to it or with the certification of the Greek Consulate in the country of probation.
One of the most important matters will be the number and nature of the assets the deceased owned at the time of their passing, mainly in Greece. Real estate property (houses, apartments, lots, plots, lands, etc.) are the first to be evaluated and added to the estate. Bank accounts, valuable movables (jewellery, paintings etc.) are also included in the estate.
Any proof about the characteristics (location, measurements, bordering properties etc.) of these assets will be the next thing to find. If the heir has any copies of deeds or other legal documents, they may be of help to legally describe the real estate properties which belonged to the deceased. Any bank transcripts or letters or booklets will help locate bank accounts. However, if the heir does not have any of the above, it is still possible to find the deeds concerning the deceased, as long as we know the area(s) of Greece where the property is located.
Finally, once the main facts about all the above matters have been settled, the heir who does not live in Greece will know that the attorney will be able to do all the work on their behalf, with a power of attorney which the heir can sign either in Greece, or at the Greek Consulate abroad, or at a notary abroad under certain conditions. The attorney in Greece will have the obligation to work diligently and to the best of their ability, serving the interests of the client always within the law and applying the rule of client/attorney privilege and not disclosing anything that may harm the interests of the client.
* Christos Iliopoulos is an attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece , LL.M.