Many Greeks living abroad or even non-Greeks, who own assets in Greece, make their Will, to direct where they wish to leave their property. With regards to property they own in Greece, their goal must be to draft a Will which will be straightforward in its application, according to Greek law and practice. What must be avoided in the text of the Will is wording, which may be adequate for a Will in the country of their residence, according to laws and practice in that country, but which will create immense bureaucratic delays or even legal deadlocks when legal practitioners in Greece attempt to implement it.
The “T” word is the main example of the word which must be avoided, when drafting a Will aimed to direct how the property in Greece will be distributed. The word and the legal notion of ”Trust” or “Testamentary Trust” is not known in Greek law and when found in the text of a foreign Will, it usually creates legal uncertainties, to say the least, when the lawyer for the heirs in Greece is trying to implement the Will’s provisions. Instead of such terms, which are not used in Greek law, the testator could elect to use legal language suggested by a lawyer in Greece, who will listen to the testator’s wishes and then come up with a text which will guarantee on the one hand that it represents the wishes of the testator, and on the other, that it can be implemented by lawyers, notaries, tax authorities, land registries and municipalities in Greece.
Another notion which could be avoided since it does not play any significant role in the implementation of a Will in Greece is that of the “Executor”. Such a provision, in most cases, is not necessary in a Will, since Greek law requires that the heirs themselves act in order to accept their shares on the estate, by retaining their own legal counsel to represent them and to do the legal process, which will end with the transfer of the ownership of the share or of the asset to the heir. One attorney can represent all or some of the heirs, and the heirs do not have to retain the same lawyer to settle the estate. Although in most cases, where there are no conflicting rights and claims, having one attorney to represent all the heirs might be advisable and ideal, each heir has, nonetheless, the right to retain his/her own attorney to represent solely his/her own rights. The Executor essentially does not play any role, in most cases, in order to represent the estate and the heirs, since everyone in Greece who is instrumental in the transfer of the estate’s assets, recognizes the actions of the heirs themselves and not those of any executor who, at best, has a limited role.
In a nutshell, the person who wishes to draft a Will to provide for the distribution of his/her assets in Greece, has two options. One is to draft a Will in the foreign country where he/she lives, by which he makes provisions for his assets in that foreign country, according to the laws of that country, as his primary goal. This foreign Will is then reviewed by a Greek lawyer, who will determine whether this Will could also be implemented, in that wording, in Greece and if the answer is in the affirmative, the Will is drafted in the foreign country and it will be probated, when the time comes, first in the foreign country and subsequently in Greece, as well.
The other option is to make one Will in the foreign country and another, separate, in Greece. The last one will be drafted according to Greek law and will reflect the wishes of the testator for the part of the estate located in Greece, whether we are talking about immovable property, or bank accounts or other movables. Greek Wills can be relatively simple, with plain and clear provisions, which will be understood by Greek legal practitioners. If the estate in Greece does not involve large and complicated business and other assets, there is no need to include elaborate provisions for tax and trust issues, which are not useful, when we are to settle an estate in Greece.
*Christos Iliopoulos is an attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece , LL.M.
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