Made a will? Without one, the state decides how your money, property and personal effects will be distributed after your death

KATHY TZILIVAKIS

It’s not just for the rich.

Making a will is the easiest way to ensure that all your worldly goods – from your priceless antique clock and stamp collection to your canoe or luxury yacht – are passed on to family and friends as you wish.

Whether it’s a mansion or a small bungalow, property owners should make a will to make sure that it’s passed on as they wish after their death

Dying intestate

If you die without a will, all your assets will be divided amongst your family according to the law.

According to Greek law, in the absence of a will, the surviving spouse comes into a quarter of the inheritance, while deceased’s children will share the remaining three-quarters. If there is no surviving spouse, the children stand to inherit everything. If there are no children, the surviving spouse is entitled to half of the inheritance; the other half will go to the siblings or the parents of the deceased.

If there are no apparent heirs, the entire inheritance passes to the state.

Death duty

According to Greek law, those who inherit from a person who died after 1983 are required to pay inheritance tax to the Greek state. In the case of real estate, heirs are taxed on the objective value and not on the market value (which is usually much higher).

The taxation rate on inherited assets depends on the relationship of the heirs to the deceased. Athens-based lawyer Christos Iliopoulos explains:

1. Spouses, children, grandchildren and parents of the deceased are exempt from paying tax for the first 80,000 euros. The tax is 5 percent on the next 20,000 euros and 10 percent on the next 120,000 euros after that. For instance, tax on an estate worth 220,000 euros would be 13,000 euros. For amounts exceeding 220,000 euros, heirs are taxed at 20 percent.

2. Grandparents, great-grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, step-parents, children from a previous marriage and in-laws are taxed differently. They are exempt from paying inheritance tax for amounts up to 15,000 euros. For the next 45,000 euros, the tax is 10 percent; for the 160,000 euros after the rate is 20 percent. So tax on an estate worth 220,000 euros would come to 36,500 euros. For amounts exceeding 220,000 euros, these heirs are taxed at 30 percent.

3. Other relatives and persons not related to the deceased are exempt from inheritance tax only on the first 5,000 euros. They are taxed at 20 percent for the next 55,000 euros and 30 percent for the next 160,000 euros. So, tax on an estate worth 220,000 euros comes to 59,000 euros. For amounts exceeding 220,000 euros, these heirs are taxed at 40 percent.

Note: All heirs are required, by law, to declare their inheritance to the Greek tax authorities within six months (or 12 months if they are permanent residents abroad). If they do not, they will be subject to a fine.

The making of a will in Greece

Everyone – over the age of 18 and of sound mind and memory – who resides or owns property in Greece has the right to make a will. This includes the tens of thousands of expatriates who purchase a summer or retirement home in Greece.

Few Greeks, however, decide to make a will. Those who do are generally older or seriously ill.

“People of other nationalities, like Britons, are more willing to make a will at younger ages,” says Iliopoulos. “Greeks tend to wait until they are very old to make a will.”

Christos Iliopoulos answers our questions on making a will in Greece:

Why should a person make a will?

No one has to make a will. You should make a will

if your wishes are different from what Greek law prescribes after your death. So, you should first find out what the law says. If you are not happy with that, you can make a will to change it. However, this does not mean that you are completely free to change the law because there are some stipulations which must be strictly adhered to and cannot change. For instance, you cannot completely leave out your children and your spouse. They are always entitled to a proportion of the inheritance. There are extreme cases, however, in which you can disinherit them, like if they tried to kill you.

Article 1822 of Greece’s inheritance law explicitly states that a spouse – a rightful heir – may only be deprived of his or her inheritance if the deceased had filed for divorce and if the grounds for the divorce are “well-founded”.

According to Article 1840 of the same legislation, there are five legal causes for disinheriting rightful heirs: 1. If they tried to kill the testator or his or her spouse, children or close family member 2. If they caused intentional physical harm to the testator or his or her spouse physical injury 3. If they are convicted of a crime or a serious misdemeanor against the testator or his or her spouse 4. If they failed to pay alimony or child support as ordered by the law 5. If they live a violent, immoral or unethical life, against the testator’s will.

How does one make a will?

There are three types of wills. One is the so-called handwritten will. You can write anything you want on any kind of document. It can even be a letter expressing your wishes. Of course, this is an informal process and the chances are that it will require interpretation. The second is a secret will. It’s basically the same as a handwritten one, but you put it in a sealed envelope and give it to a notary public for safekeeping. It is opened after the person dies. The third is a public will. To make this will, you go to a notary public, who writes the will and keeps it on file.

Note: The advantage of the secret and handwritten will is that no one – not even those who were called to witness the signing of the will and, of course, not the rightful heirs – know what is in the will.

What should be included in a will?

Basically, a will should indicate how a person’s property will be distributed after death: who will inherit the property and assets. This includes any kind of possessions, including things that may or may not have a monetary value, but sentimental value.

Note: Intellectual property is also included. This means that an author can name a literary executor.

Can a person state in their will that someone is only conditionally entitled to the inheritance, for instance if he/she graduates from university or gets married?

Yes. This is a donation under a precondition. However, the precondition cannot be something that is illegal or against accepted morals.

Can a beloved pet inherit a person in Greece?

No, I don’t think this can happen in Greece.

Can a person update or change his/her will?

Yes. It can be done. If there is more than one will, the most recent one prevails. It is not necessary to have destroyed the previous will.

Does marriage or divorce affect a will?

If, at the time of death a person is married, his or her spouse has certain rights. If at the time of the death, the person is no longer married, the ex-spouse has no right at all.

What if the will was written when they were married?

In this case, we will probably need to interpret the will because if the deceased said in the will that he wishes to leave something to his wife, but later there was a divorce, we have to interpret whether he wanted to give it to the specific person or to this person because she was his wife. It’s best to include a clause in the will stating what will happen in case of a divorce.

Can a baby inherit?

Yes. Anyone, regardless of his/her age, may inherit.

Can a will be challenged?

Anybody can challenge a will if they can prove to a court that the deceased was not of sound mind when he made his will. Or, they can argue that the deceased was under threat. It is up to the court to decide.

Is it easier to challenge a handwritten will?

Yes, because unlike a handwritten will, a public will is made before a notary public. Even though the notary is not a doctor, the notary has the common sense to realize whether that person is of a sound mind or not.

How much does it cost to make a will?

It depends on how much the lawyer wants. There is no limit. The price, however, depends on how complicated the will is. It may cost as little as few hundred euros. However, a lawyer is not always necessary. The services of a notary public are necessary in the case of a public or secret will.

The transfer of property (metavivasi akiniton)

INSTEAD of making a will, many Greek parents choose to transfer property rights to their children before their death in order to take advantage of tax-friendly legislation.

Under current law, the “donation” of property to children (regardless of their age) by their parents is either tax-free or subject to a significantly reduced tax. The parents, however, retain the rights to the property until they die.

Fast facts

* The children and surviving spouse are always entitled to a portion of the inheritance, no matter what the will states, unless they have done something very serious to warrant their disinheritance

*The beneficiaries (according to the will) and close relatives of the deceased (if there is no will) are required to attend a special court hearing (klironomitirio) where a judge will legally declare them beneficiaries and state their portion of the inheritance. Or, they can simply sign an “acceptance of inheritance” (apodohi klironomias) before a notary public

*In the case of immovable property (land, house, apartment), the heirs must register it at the local public registry (ypothikofylakio)

Greece’s three wills

1. According to Greek inheritance law, a holographic (handwritten) Will must be written entirely by the person making the will. It must be dated and signed. Any additions and changes to the will must also be signed by the person to be considered valid. Crossing out something or changing it without initialling it will render the will null and void.

The handwritten will may be kept anywhere by the testator (the person making the will) or may be given to a notary public for safekeeping.

2. A Public Will is written by a notary public and signed by the testator. The signing of the will must take place before the notary public and three witnesses or before two notaries and one witness. Note: a witness cannot be someone who stands to inherit or someone who is blind or deaf or under age 18.

If the will is more than one page long, every page must be signed.

The notary public must read the will out loud before the testator signs it. If the testator is deaf, he/she must be given a copy to read. If the testator is deaf and illiterate, the will must be drafted and signed before five witnesses or before two notaries and three witnesses.

If the testator is not fluent in Greek, an interpreter must be present.

3. With a secret will, the testator must sign it before a notary public and three witnesses or two notaries and one witness. The secret will is not read out loud by the notary. This means that only people who can read may make a secret will.

Across Europe: Conflicting laws in England, Spain and France

INHERITANCE law varies from country to country and may be contradictory, causing confusion.

In Greece, the children, spouse and parents of the deceased are always entitled to a share of the inheritance.

In England, you are free to dispose of your estate as you wish.

In Spain, however, two-thirds of the inheritance goes to the closest heirs (a third of that portion must go to the surviving spouse). The remaining may be distributed freely.

In France, inheritance law divides the property in strict order: 1) children; 2) parents, siblings, nephews and nieces; 3) grandparents; 4) spouse; 5) uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives.

In Greece, it is the location of the property and not the nationality or permanent residence of the owner which determines how property will be distributed after the owner’s death. It is the same in France and the United Kingdom and many other countries in Europe. In Spain, however, the law states that succession of all property, whether movable or immovable and wherever situated, is determined by the law of the deceased’s nationality.

This means that Spanish law can cause problems for expats like Britons, whose home country’s legislation stipulates that it is the laws of the country where the property is located that should be applied.

The EU is trying to clear the heir

The European Commission is proposing the creation of central European Union-wide register of wills

LET’S say a person who has lived in a European Union member state other than her or his own for several years dies in that country. All the heirs live in another EU member state and most of the property that they stand to inherit is in yet another EU state. Which EU country’s inheritance law applies if the deceased did not leave a will?

It’s a difficult question to answer.

That is why the European Commission published a Green Paper discussing the process regarding intestate (in the absence of a will) and testate succession in cases where there is an international dimension. This will be the basis for future common EU policy, if all member states agree.

“The growing mobility of people in an area without internal frontiers and the increasing frequency of unions between nationals of different member states, often entailing the acquisition of property in the territory of several EU member states, are a major source of complication in succession to estates,” says the European Commission in its 11-page Green Paper.

“The difficulties facing those involved in a transnational succession mostly flow from the divergence in substantive rules, procedural rules and conflict rules in the member states.”

According to the European Commission, it may be a good idea to allow the future deceased to choose the law applicable to his/her succession, with or without the agreement of his/her heirs.

The commission is also proposing the creation of central EU-wide register of wills.

What is more, the commission is seeking to establish EU legislation that would “simplify matters for heirs by allowing the recognition and enforcement of documents needed for the recognition of their rights”.

Another question raised is what happens in the case of simultaneous death. The order in which two people who are likely to inherit each other’s property die can have an impact on their respective heirs’ rights.

“Where people die in the same incident, some member states presume that they died at the same time, whereas others presume that they died in particular order,” says the Green Paper. “If their successions are governed by different laws, it may be impossible to administer them.”