Legal Correspondent Christos Kiosses specializes in assisting Greek Americans with legal issues in Greece. Here, he discusses the complex process of the Greek inheritance.
Dealing with loss
The passing of a loved one, a relative, or a person close to us, is often devastating.
The initial shock and the sense of void, that’s left behind by the absence of the deceased, is quickly filled with grief, anger, sadness… and many times obligation. Yes, obligation! We feel a sense of duty owed to our loved one. First of all, we owe them respect. We hold ceremonies to honor them. We have been doing the same since the dawn of time. Furthermore, we owe them the opportunity to finish whatever they left behind unfinished.
For the most part, this unfinished/open business is the inheritance, i.e. the property owned by the deceased. The successors need to decide what they are going to do with the property, that is about to be transferred to them.
Within the Greek legal system, there is no distinguishment between positive (assets, real estate, valuables, vehicles, merchandise, stocks, etc) and negative (debt, loans, back taxes, tariffs, etc) inheritance. Everything is transferred: assets and debt. Thus, it is very important to have a clear idea of the financial status of the estate, before accepting or denouncing the inheritance.
If there is a substantial debt burdening the estate, the heirs can either:
- denounce the inheritance altogether within four (4) months of the passing; or one (1) year for people living outside Greece), OR
- accept the inheritance with the “benefit of inventory” (A chart is drawn up with the assets on one side and the debts on the other side), where the heirs’ liability is limited to the estate’s reserve. The beneficiaries of the inheritance will not have to pay any debt out of their own pocket, but will limit their liability to the assets conveyed to them by the inheritance.
Literally speaking, the transfer of the property to the heirs takes place immediately with the passing of the inherited person. So, if the above dates pass and the heirs do not denounce, they are stuck with the inheritance, whether they want to or not.
Who inherits what?
If a person dies without a last will and testament, there is a specific order under intestate succession. It does gets confusing, so bear with me.
- 1st order: Surviving spouse – 25%; Child(ren) or Grandchild(ren), if child/ren is/are not alive – 75%
- 2nd order: Surviving spouse – 50%; Parent(s) and Brother(s)/Sister(s), Nephew(s)/Niece(s), if Brother(s)/Sister(s) are not alive, Grandnephew(s)/Grandniece(s), if Nephew(s)/Niece(s) are not alive -50%
- 3rd order: Surviving spouse – 50%; Grandparent(s), Uncle(s)/Aunt(s) if Grandparent(s) are not alive, Cousins, if Uncle(s)/Aunt(s) are not alive – 50%
- 4th order: Surviving spouse – 50% – Great-grandparent(s) – 50%
- 5th order: Surviving spouse 100%
- 6th order: The State
Who can have a will?
Under Greek Law, every person over 18 years of age and of sound mind can draft up a will and last testament.
There are three types of wills:
- Public will: drafted by a Notary Public and signed in front of three witnesses, or a second Notary Public and one witness;
- Holographic will: (the individual uses their own handwriting, conveying their own thoughts, using their own wording, stating their own will). This type of will is drafted, dated, and signed solely by the testator; and
- Secret will: where the testator drafts the will and then registers it with a Notary Public
The testator can will their property as they wish, but they cannot completely exclude their spouse and their children, unless the latter ones have done something horrible against the testator (for example, they threatened her life).
The tax authorities are watching…
The beneficiaries must file a tax return on their inheritance within six (6) months from the passing of the inherited (extended to twelve (12) months for people living abroad).
For the assessment of the tax due on the inheritance, many factors are taken into account:
- the order of the heir
- the value of the estate
- the tax-free amount calculated and subtracted from the estate, etc.
The following documents are required, when submitting an inheritance tax claim:
- Death Certificate;
- A certified copy of the will in Greek (if any);
- Close Relatives Certificate (Proof of the type and degree of kinship with the deceased, issued by the Municipal Authorities);
- Certificate by the Court Clerk (Court of First Instance) that there is NO will, or that THIS is the ONLY will, or that NO OTHER will has ever been published;
- Power of Attorney;
- Documents proving the date of the commencement of the tax obligation;
- Legal proof of any debts burdening the estate, so they can be deducted from the inheritance
OK, we are ready to accept our inheritance
A Notary Public drafts up the deed of acceptance. In order to do so, all of the above-mentioned certificates must be provided, plus the one issued by the tax authorities. As soon as the deed is ready and signed, it must be registered with the National Cadaster and the process is finished.
Throughout my professional life, I have handled over two hundred cases of inheritance, from the most simple ones to some that were extremely complicated and difficult. You will need a lawyer to help you through this complex process. Choose one that will handle the matter with respect to the deceased and their wishes, with sensitivity and compassion to the mourning relatives, but also with strong, impartial, decent, and detached professionalism. Please contact me if you have any questions.
He is a Foreign Legal Consultant within the Law Offices of George C. Xamplas, serving the needs of Greeks living in the larger Chicago area and beyond with any legal issues they might have in Greece.
Prior to moving to the US, Christos practiced law for 20 years in Greece. A member of the Thessaloniki Bar Association since 1996, he has extensive experience in litigation, counseling, legal practice and negotiations. He is licensed to practice in Illinois, in Greece, and the European Union.
He specializes in the fields of Real Estate Law, Inheritance and Tax Law, Commercial and Civil Law, as well as Intellectual Property Law and Family Law. He also has experience litigating a variety of commercial and business-related claims and liability matters.
Christos has handled successfully a wide variety of cornerstone cases, creating in the process legal precedent in the Greek Legal System. Some examples include: battling fraudulent companies in a nationwide time-sharing scheme scandal, saving countless individuals in the process; achieving a landmark case against the Hellenic Mapping and Cadastral Organization, paving the way for hundreds of homeowners to reclaim their properties.
He is also an accredited US and EU civil and commercial mediator. In that capacity, he was involved in numerous successful courtside mediations.
Christos blogs on legal topics of interest to Greek Americans, at kiossesblog.com, and discusses these topics on a weekly radio show, The Chicago Greek Hours with Sotiris Rekoumis, which airs on Thursdays at 9:00 am (CST).
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