Many documents are needed and a laborious procedure is required in Greece, in order to accept an estate or a share of it and obtain the ownership of the assets which belonged to the deceased. One document which plays a central role in the entire process is the certificate of next of kin. This certificate officially outlines the closest blood relatives of the deceased. Such information will be used by lawyers, notaries, the tax office, the courts and other authorities, in order to settle the estate and pass the ownership of the assets to those entitled to it.
Whether there is a Will (probated in Greece or abroad) or not (intestate succession), the certificate of next of kin will always be required by the Greek authorities in order to allow the steps for the settlement of the estate. The reason behind it is that, regardless of the stipulations of a Will, the close blood relatives may still inherit a share of the estate, according to the forced heirship rules of Greek law or of a foreign law. In many countries and certainly in Greece, rules exist which give a guaranteed share of an estate to the close family members of the deceased (spouse, children, parents), even if the probated Will gives to these family members a smaller share or nothing.
Under Greek law, in the absence of a Will (in Greece or abroad), the spouse is entitled to get 25 per cent and the children to share the remaining 75 per cent. If there is a Will, giving nothing to these close family members, the forced heirship laws state that these heirs (spouse, children and parents of the deceased) will always get half of what the intestate succession rules state. For example, even if completely left out of the Will, the spouse is entitled to claim at least 12.5 per cent, and the children to share between themselves 37.5 per cent of the estate. That is, if they want to claim it. Otherwise, they may cooperate with the heirs described in the Will, to official sign a document stating that they will not claim their minimum share offered to them by the law.
The next of kin certificate, therefore, is understandably the crucial document, either directing 100 per cent who are the heirs and what is their share (in case of intestate succession, when there is no Will), or at least intervening and amending the Will’s directions, in favour of the close family members, in case there is a Will.
If the deceased was a Greek citizen, irrespective of having also the citizenship of another country, Greek law requires that the next of kin certificate is issued by the Municipality of registration of the deceased, somewhere in Greece. The Municipality will check whether the family members of the deceased are already registered, meaning whether the marriage of the deceased is registered, so the name of the spouse is in the records, and also whether the children are registered. If the names of the close family members are registered, the Municipality will issue the much wanted next of kin document, which will contain the full names of the next of kin. No progress in the estate can be made, without using the next of kin document, so that the authorities are at every step aware whether there are family members who have a guaranteed share.
If the close family members are not registered in the Municipality, two witnesses must sign an affidavit, stating who are the next of kin and the foreign marriage and foreign birth of children must be registered in Greece. This is the scenario which happens when an originally Greek citizen by birth has left Greece, has married and has obtained children abroad, without registering in Greece the marriage (possibly even a foreign divorce and second marriage) and the birth of the children in another country.
In that case, the two witnesses must state in their affidavits in detail the names of the close of kin, without omitting anyone, even if it is an out of wedlock child, or a child who does not want to inherit, or is not involved but we know of his/her existence. Even the child who, according to the opinion of the other children, is not morally entitled to inherit, must be stated, otherwise the close of kin document will be inaccurate and invalid and the witness who signed it may face criminal charges, if she/he knew of the mere existence of the close family member and did not state it in the affidavit.
If the deceased was not a Greek citizen, the jurist who works to settle the estate in Greece, will seek either a public document from the country of the citizenship of the deceased, which outlines the next of kin, or in the absence of such public document, the written legal opinion of a jurist of that country, which will describe the next of kin or who inherits and what share when there is no Will.
Christos Iliopoulos LL.M. is an attorney at the Supreme Court of Greece. More info at www.greekadvocate.eu or e-mail: email@example.com