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Inheritance law and estate planning in Greece and abroad

    Sharing your wealth to your family members or other persons is always a complex issue. Even those who inherit it, with or without a will, are not spared.

    The inheritance tax varies between 0 and 50% and depends on the degree of kinship, but also on whether it is real estate, securities, bank deposits or valuables. It also plays a role if the assets are registered in the country of residence, in the EU or in another state, but also the nationality of the heirs, etc. Special rules apply in particular to life insurance policies, joint-stock companies, etc.

Due to the particularly important tax and legal consequences, it is essential that specialized lawyers intervene scrupulously and cautiously.

    A mere transfer of ownership of a property or an ordinary joint bank account may be a solution in simple cases only. When things are getting complicated, a different stance is required. For example, in the near future, there will be, in Greece also, a wealth and assets record, like it is already in place in most countries and which will require a detailed registration of all assets. A transparent and legally compliant solution must be applied. That is why since 2017 already, the tax authorities of most countries of the world, every EU country, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the United States and elsewhere, have introduced the automatic exchange of information (AEI) on moveable assets.

    Deposits (including investments, fund shares, etc.) in joint bank accounts in Greece are in practice exempt from inheritance tax, and in the event of the holder’s death, those assets are automatically credited to the co-owners. In theory, this does not apply to common bank accounts held abroad by Greek citizens, but in practice, no problems have arisen in this regard. It would also be contrary to European law (since the latter prevails over Greek law), which assures the free movement of capital.

    However, one must be careful, since, in some countries, e.g. Switzerland, there are no joint accounts, but only situations where third parties are operating through a simple authorization by the proxy. Therefore, in the event of the death of the account owner, his bank account is being blocked and the funds may only be transferred to the co-owners by inheritance (will or legal succession) after the establishment and the filing of an inheritance certificate or any other relevant document.

    Greek law has special provisions applicable to the taxation of inheritance of movable assets, located in Greece. However, when these assets are located abroad, things are more complicated and there is a distinction between residents and non-residents: For legal heirs residing in Greece (Greeks or foreigners), the inheritance is normally taxed. The same applies to Greek citizens residing abroad unless they have lived outside of Greece for at least 10 years without interruption. This measure is particularly burdensome for Greeks who owning assets outside of their home country.

    In a future analysis, we will deal with real estate ownership and the special regulations for insurance policies, the transfer of company shares, etc. Our law firm cooperates with specialized tax experts who have extensive experience in Greece and abroad, and we maintain privileged relations with Switzerland and the United States. Thus, our firm can properly assist you in situations where estate planning is essential.